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Anderson v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. New York

June 28, 2017

DONNA M. ANDERSON, 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, Donna M. Anderson (“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”) 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.

         II. Procedural History

         The record reveals that in August 2011, plaintiff (d/o/b October 19, 1968) filed applications for DIB and SSI, alleging disability beginning September 8, 2011. After her applications were denied, plaintiff requested a hearing, which was held before administrative law judge Gitel Reich (“the ALJ”) on April 23, 2013.[1] The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on June 25, 2013. The Appeals Council denied review of that decision and this timely action followed.

         III. The ALJ's Decision

         Initially, the ALJ found that plaintiff satisfied the insured status requirements of the Act through December 31, 2015. 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 September 8, 2011, the alleged onset date. At step two, the ALJ found that plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma currently in remission, asthma/COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder), and degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine. 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.

         Before proceeding to step four, the ALJ found that plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(a), 416.967(a) except that she could not work in an environment with more than occasional exposure to respiratory irritants, and she could not perform a job that requires rapid neck movements. At step four, the ALJ found that plaintiff was incapable of performing past relevant work. At step five, the ALJ found that considering plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, there were jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy that she could perform. Accordingly, the ALJ found that plaintiff was 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. Step Two Finding

         Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred in finding that her depression was not severe at step two. The ALJ made a specific finding that plaintiff's depression was non-severe, finding that the condition “[did] not add on any additional limitations to her [RFC], ” and noting that Wellbutrin helped treat the symptoms of plaintiff's depression. The ALJ also found that plaintiff had only mild limitations in activities of daily living, social functioning, and concentration, persistence, or pace. For the reasons set forth below, the Court concludes that the ALJ did not err at step two by finding plaintiff's depression non-severe.

         “Under the applicable regulations, an impairment is considered to be ‘non-severe' if it ‘does not significantly limit [the claimant's] physical or mental ability to do basic work activities.'” Patterson v. Colvin, 24 F.Supp.3d 356, 368 (S.D.N.Y. 2014) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 416.921(a)). The record reveals that plaintiff first reported “some depression” to her primary care physician, Dr. Erika Connor, on January 24, 2012, but “state[d] that [it was] very bearable and decline[d] any intervention either by psychology consult or with medication.” T. 455. Later, on October 31, 2012, Dr. Connor prescribed Wellbutrin, [2] apparently for depressive symptoms. On January 9, 2013, Dr. Connor increased plaintiff's Wellbutrin prescription, noting that plaintiff reported to him that her prescription “may not be strong enough.” T. 535. On February 6, 2013, Dr. Connor noted that plaintiff's depression was “stable.” T. 529. At the supplemental hearing, the ALJ asked plaintiff what symptoms of depression she experienced, and plaintiff responded that she “[j]ust . . . had some thoughts of suicide but [she] could never do it because of [her] children.” T. 570. She then testified that her Wellbutrin helped since Dr. Connor increased her dosage.

         Based on the facts in this record, the Court finds that substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision that plaintiff's depression was not a severe impairment within the meaning of the regulations. There is no indication from the record that plaintiff's depression contributed to any limitations on work-related functioning. Moreover, as the ALJ noted, plaintiff did not seek treatment from a psychiatric source, electing instead to have medication management by her primary care physician. See, e.g., Patterson v. Colvin, 24 F.Supp.3d 356, 369 (S.D.N.Y. 2014) (affirming finding that ...


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