United States District Court, W.D. New York
DECISION AND ORDER
MICHAEL A. TELESCA United States District Judge.
by counsel, plaintiff Samantha Swain
(“plaintiff”) brings this action pursuant to
Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (the
“Act”), seeking review of the final decision of
the Commissioner of Social Security (the
“Commissioner” or “defendant”)
denying her applications for disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”) and supplemental security income
(“SSI”). The Court has jurisdiction over this
matter pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Presently before
the Court are the parties' cross-motions for judgment on
the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of
Civil Procedure. For the reasons discussed below, the
Commissioner's motion is granted and plaintiff's
motion is denied.
initially filed her application for DIB on March 19, 2008.
Administrative Transcript (“T.”) 214-16.
Plaintiff's application was denied, and she requested a
hearing before an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”), which occurred on May 10, 2010, before
ALJ Marilyn D. Zahm. T. 69-70, 839-74. On June 1, 2010, ALJ
Zahm issued a decision in which she found plaintiff not
disabled as defined in the Act. T. 98-117. Plaintiff
requested review by the Appeals Council, and the Appeals
Council subsequently vacated the ALJ's decision and
remanded the matter for further proceedings. T. 133-137. A
second hearing was held before ALJ Zahm on August 15, 2011.
T. 874-901. ALJ Zahm issued a second decision finding
plaintiff not disabled on September 14, 2011. T. 28-47.
Plaintiff again requested Appeals Council review, and the
Appeals Council remanded the matter for additional
administrative proceedings a second time. T. 193-197. In its
second remand order, issued on October 9, 2012, the Appeals
Council instructed the ALJ on remand to “address all
the relevant medical evidence, including [a] Match 25, 2011
consultative examination.” T. 196.
March 27, 2013, a third hearing was conducted before ALJ
Bruce R. Mazzarella. T. 902-61. Pursuant to the Appeals
Council's order, ALJ Mazzarella reopened plaintiff's
previously denied May 30, 2007 application for DIB and
consolidated plaintiff's subsequent January 28, 2011
applications for DIB and SSI. T. 17. On June 20, 2013, ALJ
Mazzarella issued a decision finding plaintiff not disabled
from August 24, 2006 (her alleged disability onset date)
through the date of the decision. T. 14-27. The Appeals
Council denied plaintiff's request for review on August
25, 2014, rendering ALJ Mazzarella's decision the final
determination of the Commissioner. T. 7-9. Plaintiff
subsequently commenced this action.
The ALJ's Decision
the ALJ found that Plaintiff met the insured status
requirements of the Act through March 31, 2012. T. 20. At
step one of the five-step sequential evaluation, see 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920, the ALJ found that
plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since August 24, 2006, the alleged onset date. Id.
At step two, the ALJ found that plaintiff had the severe
impairments of mild degenerative disc disease of the back and
neck, obesity, diabetes mellitus with possible mild
neuropathy in feet, and asthma/bronchitis. Id. At
step three, the ALJ found that plaintiff did not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled a listed impairment. Id.
proceeding to step four, the ALJ found that plaintiff
retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”)
to: lift and carry up to 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds
frequently; sit for an 8-hour workday with normal breaks and
meal periods; stand and/or walk for an 8-hour workday with
normal breaks and meal periods; occasionally stoop, crouch,
kneel, or climb stairs; not work in unventilated areas that
contain large concentrations of dusts, fumes, gasses or
vapors; and not use ladders or scaffolds, work around
unprotected heights, or operate dangerous or moving
machinery. T. 21. At step four, the ALJ found that plaintiff
was capable of performing her past relevant work as a
cashier/checker. Accordingly, the ALJ found that plaintiff
was not disabled.
district court may set aside the Commissioner's
determination that a claimant is not disabled only if the
factual findings are not supported by “substantial
evidence” or if the decision is based on legal error.
42 U.S.C. § 405(g); see also Green-Younger v.
Barnhart, 335 F.3d 99, 105-06 (2d Cir. 2003).
“Substantial evidence means ‘such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.'” Shaw v. Chater,
221 F.3d 126, 131 (2d Cir. 2000).
Consideration of March 25, 2011 Consultative
March 25, 2011, Plaintiff underwent a consultative
examination with Dr. Nikita Dave. T. 784-89. Plaintiff told
Dr. Dave that she has been in a motor vehicle accident in
2006 resulting in low back pain and right shoulder pain, and
that her low back pain was worsened by a subsequent motor
vehicle accident in 2009. T. 784. Plaintiff reported being in
constant pain, which was exacerbated by twisting and
prolonged sitting. Id. Plaintiff further reported
suffering from insulin-dependent diabetes, “arrythmia,
” vitamin D deficiency, and insomnia. T. 784-85.
Plaintiff reported shopping once per week, cooking twice per
week, bathing and dressing as needed, and watching
television. T. 785. On physical examination, plaintiff's
gait was unremarkable and she could walk on her heels and
toes without difficulty. T. 786. Plaintiff squatted halfway,
complaining of back and thigh pain, and had moderately
antalgic transfers. Id.
Dave observed that plaintiff's musculoskeletal and
neurological examination was “abnormal” because
plaintiff took a deep breath before each movement and stated
that she would “do it if you want me to.” T. 786.
Dr. Dave described these actions as “interesting”
and opined that plaintiff had “questionable
motivation” and was “perhaps [seeking] to
demonstrate her current complaints, making her perhaps
‘dizzy.'” Id. Plaintiff had no
tenderness or scoliosis. Id. She had a slightly
increased thoracic kyphosis, and her lumbar spine range of
motion was 3 degrees in extension, 40 to 50 degrees in
flexion, 15 degrees in lateral flexion, and 25 degrees in
rotation. Id. Plaintiff had midline tenderness in
the L1 to L3-L4 area of her lumbar spine and the bilateral