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Wright v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. New York

June 23, 2017

LESA WRIGHT, Plaintiff
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          For the Plaintiff: Lesa Wright, pro se.

          For the Defendant: David L. Brown Social Security Administration Office of General Counsel, Kathryn L. Smith, A.U.S.A. Office of the United States Attorney for the Western District of New York.


          CHARLES J. SIRAGUSA United States District Judge.


         This is an action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to review the final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner” or “Defendant”), which denied the application of Lesa Wright (“Plaintiff”) for Supplemental Security Income Benefits. Now before the Court is Defendant's motion (Docket No. [#10]) for judgment on the pleadings. Oral argument had been scheduled to be heard on August 3, 2017. However, Plaintiff defaulted in responding to Defendant's motion, and the Court is therefore cancelling oral argument and issuing its decision. Defendant's application is granted and this action is dismissed.


         The reader is presumed to be Defendant's motion [#10], which contains a recitation of the pertinent facts. The Court has reviewed the administrative record [#8] and will reference it only as necessary to explain this Decision and Order.

         Plaintiff claims to be disabled due to both physical and mental impairments, but it is clear that the physical impairments are not disabling in and of themselves, and merely limit the exertional level at which Plaintiff can work. In that regard, Plaintiff claims to have significant pain in her left shoulder, from a healed fracture. Plaintiff treats the pain with Ibuprofen as needed. (53). Plaintiff maintains that the shoulder pain limits her ability to lift the left arm above her head or to use it repetitively. (55). Medical opinion evidence indicates that Plaintiff has a moderate limitation on pushing, pulling, lifting and reaching involving the left shoulder. (236-239).[1] Plaintiff also has diabetes that she treats with medication, diet and exercise. During her consultative internal medication examination, Plaintiff reportedly “denie[d] any complications from diabetes.” (236).

         The main thrust of Plaintiff disability claim is her contention that non-exertional impairments limit her ability to work. More specifically, Plaintiff claims to suffer from depression and anxiety, for which she takes Paxil. (53). Plaintiff contends that the Paxil causes her to feel fatigued. (56, 57). Plaintiff contends that the depression, anxiety and fatigue limit her ability to concentrate, and require her to take a nap after any period of prolonged concentration. Plaintiff further claims that she has difficulty getting along with people. (58).[2]

         On September 24, 2014, the ALJ conducted a hearing at which Plaintiff appeared by herself and waived her right to have an attorney. (49). The issue before the ALJ was whether Plaintiff was disabled at any time between May 28, 2013 (the date that the SSI application was filed) and the date of his decision.[3] Plaintiff's treatment records, covering the period 2011-2014, were sparse, and consisted primarily of office notes from her visits to her primary care physician, for monitoring of her diabetes and other routine matters.[4] Plaintiff was prescribed Paxil for anxiety and depression during that period, but did not seek mental health counseling or other treatment. Plaintiff indicates that she had previously received counseling between 2006-2008, and did not find it helpful.

         The only medical source opinions were from a consulting internist and a consulting psychologist, each of whom examined Plaintiff once, and a non-examining agency review physician. None of these medical source opinions indicated that Plaintiff was unable to work. The consulting internist, Harbinder Toor, M.D. (“Toor”), reported that Plaintiff engaged in normal activities of daily living, such as cooking, cleaning, shopping and providing childcare. (237). The consultative psychologist, Yu-Ling Lin, Ph.D. (“Dr. Lin”), noted that Plaintiff's “manner of relating was poor, ” that her affect and mood were “irritable, ” and that she had stated, in response to being asked to perform a certain test of attention and concentration, that she “was not in the mood to perform the task.” (243). The psychologist indicated that Plaintiff was “markedly limited in relating adequately with others and [in] dealing with stress.” (244). On this point, the psychologist commented that Plaintiff's “difficulties are caused by a lack of motivation and stress-related problems.” (244). The psychologist further opined that while Plaintiff's examination results were “consistent with psychiatric problems, ” those problems did “not appear to be significant enough to interfere with [her] ability to function on a daily basis.” (244).

         The ALJ gave “significant weight” to the medical opinions, and found, with regard to exertional limitations, that Plaintiff could perform light work, except that she could not engage in “overhead reaching” with her left arm. (15). With regard to non-exertional impairments, the ALJ found, inter alia, that Plaintiff could perform simple unskilled work (with breaks every two hours), requiring only “routine, superficial” contact with co-workers during 1/3 of the workday or less, and further requiring no contact with the public. (15). Overall, applying the familiar five-step sequential analysis used to evaluate disability claims, the ALJ found that Plaintiff could not perform any past relevant work, but that she could perform other jobs, such as “Inspector, ” DOT 559.687-074, and “Packager, ” DOT 753.687-038. (18). Consequently, the ALJ denied Plaintiff's application for SSI benefits.

         Plaintiff appealed, alleging only that “a lot of the [ALJ's] statements” were “lies [that were] not true.” (6). While the appeal was pending, Plaintiff sent a letter to the Appeals Council, indicating that her diabetes condition had worsened. The Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ's determination.

         On March 10, 2016, Plaintiff filed the subject action, proceeding pro se. Plaintiff's Complaint [#1] does not indicate why she believes that the Commissioner's determination is incorrect. On March 9, 2017, Defendant filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings, and on March 14, 2017, the Court issued a Motion Scheduling Order [#11], directing Plaintiff to file and serve any ...

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