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Vanbenschoten v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, N.D. New York

April 21, 2017

SALLY A. VANBENSCHOTEN, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          OFFICE OF PETER M. MARGOLIUS PETER M. MARGOLIUS Counsel for Plaintiff

          U.S. SOCIAL SECURITY ADMIN. FERGUS J. KAISER, ESQ. OFFICE OF REG'L GEN. COUNSEL - REGION II Counsel for Defendant

          DECISION AND ORDER

          GLENN T. SUDDABY, Chief United States District Judge

         Currently before the Court, in this Social Security action filed by Sally A. Vanbenschoten (“Plaintiff”) against the Commissioner of Social Security (“Defendant” or “the Commissioner”) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), are Plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings and Defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings. (Dkt. No. 11, 12.) For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings is denied and Defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings is granted. The Commissioner's decision denying Plaintiff's disability benefits is affirmed, and Plaintiff's Complaint is dismissed.

         I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         Plaintiff was born in 1982, making her 27 years old at the alleged onset date and 32 years old at the date of the final Agency decision. Plaintiff has a ninth grade education, and past work as a server, food preparation worker, and waitress. Plaintiff was insured for disability benefits under Title II until December 31, 2012. Generally, Plaintiff alleges disability consisting of low back pain and a hearing impairment that is worse in her right ear.

         B. Procedural History

         Plaintiff applied for Title II Disability Insurance Benefits on December 11, 2012, and Title XVI Supplemental Security Income on December 12, 2012. In both applications, Plaintiff alleged disability beginning November 1, 2009. Plaintiff's application was initially denied on February 21, 2013, after which she timely requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). On April 28, 2014, Plaintiff appeared at a hearing before ALJ Robert Wright. On July 24, 2014, the ALJ issued a written decision finding Plaintiff not disabled under the Social Security Act. (T. 11-27.) On November 5, 2015, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (T. 1-3.)

         C. The ALJ's Decision

         Generally, in his decision, the ALJ made the following six findings of fact and conclusions of law. (T. 13-21.) First, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 1, 2009, the alleged onset date. (T. 13.) Second, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine is a severe impairment, while her hearing impairment, knee pain, asthma, carpal tunnel syndrome, depression, anxiety, and obesity are not severe. (T. 13-14.) Third, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's severe impairment does not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, App. 1 (the “Listings”). (T. 16.) More specifically, the ALJ considered Listing 1.00 (musculoskeletal impairments). (Id.) Fourth, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform

semi-skilled work with the ability to sit four hours in an eight-hour day, stand and walk four hours in an eight-hour day with no work on ladders or scaffolding, no crouching or crawling and only occasional stooping, kneeling, climbing, working with moving machinery, exposure to temperature extremes, dust or fumes, and she would need to change position every hour.

(T. 16.) Fifth, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has past work as a server, food preparation worker, and waitress, though the ALJ also found that Plaintiff is unable to perform this past work based on the restrictions in the RFC. (T. 20-21.) Sixth, and finally, the ALJ determined that there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform, including telemarketer, customer service representative, and information clerk. (T. 21-22.)

         D. The Parties' Briefings on Their Cross-Motions

         Generally, Plaintiff asserts two arguments in support of her motion for judgment on the pleadings. First, Plaintiff argues that the RFC determination was not supported by substantial evidence. More specifically, Plaintiff argues that substantial evidence did not support the ALJ's finding that Plaintiff could perform semi-skilled work because the ALJ acknowledged that Plaintiff only had a limited education. (Dkt. No. 11, at 3 [Pl. Mem. of Law].) As a corollary, Plaintiff also challenges whether she would be able to perform the General Education Development (“GED”) requirements[1] of some of the provided jobs based on her ninth grade education. (Dkt. No. 11, at 4-6 [Pl. Mem. of Law].) Second, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's conclusion at Step Five that ...


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