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Frost v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. New York

June 16, 2017

JESSICA M. FROST, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          DECISION AND ORDER

          HON. MICHAEL A. TELESCA United States District Judge.

         I. Introduction

         Represented by counsel, plaintiff Jessica M. Frost (“plaintiff”) brings this action pursuant to the Social Security Act (the “Act”), seeking review of the final decision of defendant the Acting Commissioner of Social Security (the “Commissioner” or “defendant”) denying her application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). 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, plaintiff's motion denied and the Commissioner's motion is granted.

         II. Procedural History

         Plaintiff filed an application for DIB on September 30, 2013, which was denied. Administrative Transcript (“T.”) 101-104. At plaintiff's request, a hearing was held before administrative law judge (“ALJ”) Timothy M. McGuan on March 24, 2014. T. 32-50. In a decision dated May 13, 2014, ALJ McGuan found that plaintiff was not disabled as defined in the Act and denied her claim. T. 16-31. On September 18, 2014, the Appeals Council issued an order denying plaintiff's request for review, thereby rendering ALJ McGuan's decision the Commissioner's final determination. T. 9-11. Plaintiff subsequently filed this action.

         III. The ALJ's Decision

         Initially, the ALJ found that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through December 31, 2016. T. 18. At step one of the five-step sequential evaluation, see 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920, the ALJ determined that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 6, 2012, the alleged onset date. Id. At step two, the ALJ found that plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments of post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”); major depressive disorder, recurrent, mild to moderate; and alcohol, cocaine, and cannabis abuse/dependence. Id. At step three, the ALJ found that plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of any listed impairment. T. 19-20.

         Before proceeding to step four, the ALJ determined that, considering all of plaintiff's impairments, plaintiff retained the RFC to perform “a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following nonexertional limitations: can occasionally interact with the public; can occasionally understand, remember, and carry out complex and detailed tasks; and can be in an office environment. T. 20. At step four, the ALJ found that plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work. T. 27. At step five, the ALJ concluded that, considering plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that plaintiff can perform. Id. Accordingly, the ALJ found plaintiff not disabled.

         IV. Discussion

         A 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).

         A. Internal Consistency of the ALJ's Decision

         Plaintiff first argues that the ALJ's RFC determination was unsupported by substantial evidence because it conflicted with his own factual findings. Specifically, plaintiff contends that (1) the ALJ's conclusion that plaintiff had “moderate” limitations in social functioning and concentration, persistence, and pace is not reflected in the RFC, and (2) the ALJ's finding that plaintiff was generally credible is inconsistent with his failure to include her claimed inability to work around men and need to nap in the RFC.

         Plaintiff's argument with respect to her limitations in social functioning is without merit. This Court has consistently held that “[a] determination that Plaintiff should not have consistent contact with the general public accounts for . . . moderate social limitations.” Gibbons Thornton v. Colvin, No. 14-CV-748S, 2016 WL 611041 at *4 (W.D.N.Y. Feb. 16, 2016) (quotation omitted) (collecting cases); see also Reilly v. Colvin, 2015 WL 6674955 at *3 (W.D.N.Y. Nov. 2, 2015) (“generally a limitation to only occasional or limited contact with others has been found sufficient to account for moderate limitations in social functioning”) (quotation omitted). Here, the ALJ's RFC determination limited plaintiff to only occasional interaction with the public, thereby adequately accounting for her moderate limitations in social functioning. See Wozniak v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 2015 WL 4038568, at *4 (W.D.N.Y. June 30, 2015) (conclusion that plaintiff had “moderate difficulties” in social functioning does not compel the inclusion of social functioning limitations in the RFC).

         With respect to plaintiff's moderate limitations in concentration, persistence, and pace, the Court again finds that no inconsistency with the ALJ's factual findings. The Second Circuit has upheld an ALJ's determination that a plaintiff with “moderate difficulties” in concentration, persistence, or pace was capable of “following directions, performing simple and some complex tasks (with and without supervision), maintaining concentration, attending to a routine, dealing with stress (via medication), and working with others.” McIntyre v. Colvin, 758 F.3d 146, 149 (2d Cir. 2014); see also Wells v. Colvin, 87 F.Supp.3d 421, 435 (W.D.N.Y. 2015) (upholding ALJ's ...


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