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Gardenier v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, N.D. New York

June 1, 2017


          OLINSKY LAW OFFICE HOWARD D. OLINSKY, ESQ. Counsel for Plaintiff



          William B. Mitchell Carter U.S. Magistrate Judge

          This matter was referred to me, for all proceedings and entry of a final judgment, pursuant to the Social Security Pilot Program, N.D.N.Y. General Order No. 18, and in accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), Fed.R.Civ.P. 73, N.D.N.Y. Local Rule 73.1 and the consent of the parties. (Dkt. No. 16.)

         Currently before the Court, in this Social Security action filed by Jennifer Rose Gardenier (“Plaintiff”) against the Commissioner of Social Security (“Defendant” or “the Commissioner”) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), are the parties' cross- motions for judgment on the pleadings. (Dkt. Nos. 10, 14.) For the reasons set forth below it is ordered that Plaintiff's motion be denied and Defendant's motion be granted.


         A. Factual Background

         Plaintiff was born in 1975. (T. 58.) She completed high school. (T. 144.) Generally, Plaintiff's alleged disability consists of agoraphobia, depression, fibromyalgia, personality disorder, anxiety, and a learning disorder. (T. 58.) Her alleged disability onset date is January 15, 2011. (T. 58.) Her date last insured is June 30, 2016. (T. 21.)[1] She previously worked as a janitor, an assembly line worker, and an inspector. (T. 144.)

         B. Procedural History

         On December 9, 2012, Plaintiff applied for a period of Disability Insurance Benefits (“SSD”) under Title II of the Social Security Act. (T. 68.) Plaintiff's application was initially denied, after which she timely requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“the ALJ”). On April 10, 2014, Plaintiff appeared before the ALJ, Marie Greener. (T. 32-56.) On July 31, 2014, ALJ Greener issued a written decision finding Plaintiff not disabled under the Social Security Act. (T. 16-31.) On November 23, 2015, the Appeals Council (“AC”) denied Plaintiff's request for review, rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (T. 1-5.) Thereafter, Plaintiff timely sought judicial review in this Court.

         C. The ALJ's Decision

         Generally, in her decision, the ALJ made the following findings of fact and conclusions of law. (T. 21-28.) First, the ALJ found that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements through June 30, 2016 and Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 15, 2011. (T. 21.) Second, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the severe impairments of depressive disorder, an anxiety disorder, and borderline personality disorder. (T. 22.) Third, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments located in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix. 1. (T. 22-24.) Fourth, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels. (T. 24.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff had the ability to understand and follow simple instructions and directions, perform simple tasks with supervision and independently, maintain attention and concertation for simple tasks, regularly attend to a routine and maintain a schedule, relate to and interact appropriately with others in order to carry our simple tasks, and handle work-related stress in that she could make decisions directly related to the performance of simple tasks in a position with consistent job duties that did not require her to supervise or manage the work of others. (Id.) Fifth, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was incapable of performing her past relevant work; however, there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy Plaintiff could perform. (T. 27-28.)


          A. Plaintiff's Arguments

         Plaintiff makes three separate arguments in support of her motion for judgment on the pleadings. First, Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred at step two in assessing the severity of Plaintiff's impairments. (Dkt. No. 10 at 9-11 [Pl.'s Mem. of Law].) Second, Plaintiff argues the RFC determination is not supported by substantial evidence. (Id. at 11-14.) Third, and lastly, Plaintiff argues the step five determination is not supported by substantial evidence. (Id. at 14-15.)

         B. Defendant's Arguments

         In response, Defendant makes three arguments. First, Defendant argues the ALJ did not err at step two of the sequential evaluation. (Dkt. No. 14 at 4-8 [Def.'s Mem. of Law].) Second, Defendant argues substantial evidence supports the ALJ's RFC assessment. (Id. at 8-17.) Third, and lastly, Defendant argues the ALJ correctly relied on the Medical-Vocational Rules at step five. (Id. at 17-18.)


          A. Standard of Review

         A court reviewing a denial of disability benefits may not determine de novo whether an individual is disabled. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3); Wagner v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 906 F.2d 856, 860 (2d Cir. 1990). Rather, the Commissioner's determination will only be reversed if the correct legal standards were not applied, or it was not supported by substantial evidence. See Johnson v. Bowen, 817 F.2d 983, 986 (2d Cir. 1987) (“Where there is a reasonable basis for doubt whether the ALJ applied correct legal principles, application of the substantial evidence standard to uphold a finding of no disability creates an unacceptable risk that a claimant will be deprived of the right to have her disability determination made according to the correct legal principles.”); Grey v. Heckler, 721 F.2d 41, 46 (2d Cir. 1983); Marcus v. Califano, 615 F.2d 23, 27 (2d Cir. 1979).

         “Substantial evidence” is evidence that amounts to “more than a mere scintilla, ” and has been defined as “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 1427 (1971). Where evidence is deemed susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the ...

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