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Mura v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. New York

June 13, 2017


          DECISION & ORDER

          MARIAN W. PAYSON United States Magistrate Judge


         Plaintiff Jill Marie Mura (“Mura”) brings this action pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the “Commissioner”) denying her application for Supplemental Security Income Benefits (“SSI”). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), the parties have consented to the disposition of this case by a United States magistrate judge. (Docket # 14).

         Currently before the Court are the parties' motions for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Docket ## 11, 12). For the reasons set forth below, I hereby vacate the decision of the Commissioner and remand this claim for further administrative proceedings consistent with this decision.


         I. Procedural Background

         Mura applied for SSI alleging disability beginning on November 1, 2012, due to asthma, anxiety, depression, degenerative disc disease, morbid obesity, bursitis in her left shoulder, arthritis in her knees, and acid reflux. (Tr. 258, 262).[2] On February 19, 2013, the Social Security Administration denied Mura's claim for benefits, finding that she was not disabled.[3] (Tr. 114). Mura requested and was granted a hearing before Administrative Law Judge John P. Costello (the “ALJ”). (Tr. 29, 152, 196-98). The ALJ conducted a hearing on September 18, 2014. (Tr. 29-54). In a decision dated November 24, 2014, the ALJ found that Mura was not disabled and was not entitled to benefits. (Tr. 11-24).

         On January 4, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Mura's request for review of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 1-4). Mura commenced this action on March 11, 2016, seeking review of the Commissioner's decision. (Docket # 1).

         II. Relevant Medical Evidence[4]

         The record indicates that Mura began receiving primary care treatment from Rana Masood (“Masood”), M.D., as early as October 2009 and continued receiving primary care treatment from her until approximately September 2012. (Tr. 135, 265, 267, 289, 293, 344, 346, 371, 373, 417). The records suggest that Masood treated Mura for a variety of complaints, both mental and physical, including asthma, anemia, low back and thoracic spine pain, acid reflux, anxiety, and depression. (Id.). Beginning in December 2012, Mura began receiving primary care treatment from Susan Areeckal (“Areeckal”), M.D. (Tr. 353). The record suggests that Mura continued to receive treatment from Areeckal until the time of the administrative hearing. (Tr. 359, 386, 393, 395, 397, 400, 407).

         On May 2, 2011, Masood completed a physical assessment for determination of employability relating to Mura. (Tr. 375-78). Masood reported that Mura suffered from shoulder and back pain and was unable to use public transportation or to squat. (Id.). Masood opined that Mura was “very limited” in her ability to walk, stand, sit, push, pull, bend, lift, and carry. (Id.). The form defined “very limited” to mean an ability to perform those functions an estimated one to two hours per eight-hour workday. (Id.).


         I. Standard of Review

         This Court's scope of review is limited to whether the Commissioner's determination is supported by substantial evidence in the record and whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards. See Butts v. Barnhart, 388 F.3d 377, 384 (2d Cir. 2004) (“[i]n reviewing a final decision of the Commissioner, a district court must determine whether the correct legal standards were applied and whether substantial evidence supports the decision”), reh'g granted in part and denied in part, 416 F.3d 101 (2d Cir. 2005); see also Schaal v. Apfel, 134 F.3d 496, 501 (2d Cir. 1998) (“it is not our function to determine de novo whether plaintiff is disabled[;] . . . [r]ather, we must determine whether the Commissioner's conclusions are supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole or are based on an erroneous legal standard”) (internal citation and quotation omitted). Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), a district court reviewing the Commissioner's determination to deny disability benefits is directed to accept the Commissioner's findings of fact unless they are not supported by “substantial evidence.” See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (“[t]he findings of the Commissioner . . . as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive”). Substantial evidence is defined as “more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (internal quotation omitted).

         To determine whether substantial evidence exists in the record, the court must consider the record as a whole, examining the evidence submitted by both sides, “because an analysis of the substantiality of the evidence must also include that which detracts from its weight.” Williams ex rel. Williams v. Bowen, 859 F.2d 255, 258 (2d Cir. 1988). To the extent they are supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's findings of fact must be sustained “even where substantial evidence may support the claimant's position and despite the fact that the [c]ourt, had it heard the evidence de novo, might have found otherwise.” Matejka v. Barnhart, 386 F.Supp.2d 198, 204 (W.D.N.Y. 2005) (citing Rutherford v. Schweiker, 685 F.2d 60, 62 (2d Cir. 1982), cert. denied, 459 U.S. 1212 (1983)).

         A person is disabled for the purposes of SSI and disability benefits if he or she is unable “to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A) & 1382c(a)(3)(A). When assessing whether a claimant is disabled, the ALJ must ...

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