United States District Court, W.D. New York
DECISION AND ORDER
MICHAEL A. TELESCA United States District Judge.
by counsel, Joyce Wilson ("Plaintiff") instituted
this action pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act
("the Act"), seeking review of the final decision
of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security ("the
Commissioner") denying her application for Disability
Insurance Benefits ("DIB"). This Court has
jurisdiction over the matter pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g), 1383(c) .
filed for DIB on March 7, 2013, alleging disability beginning
on September 16, 2004, due to a back injury and high blood
pressure. (T.31, 129, 131, 152). Following the denial of the
claim at the initial level, Plaintiff requested a hearing.
(T.76-78, 80, 84-90) . On November 12, 2014, a hearing was
conducted by administrative law judge Connor O'Brien
("the ALJ"). Plaintiff appeared with her attorney
and testified, as did impartial vocational expert Julie A.
Andrews ("the VE") . (T.27-70) . On February 24,
2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not
disabled during the period beginning September 16, 2004, the
alleged onset date, and ending December 31, 2006, the date
last insured. (T.12-26). The Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review, rendering the ALJ's
decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (T.l-4).
This timely action followed.
parties have cross-moved for judgment on the pleadings
pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure. The Court adopts and incorporates by reference
herein the undisputed and comprehensive factual summaries
contained in the parties' briefs. The record will be
discussed in more detail below as necessary to the resolution
of this appeal. For the reasons that follow, the
Commissioner's decision is affirmed.
followed the five-step sequential evaluation procedure
established by the Commissioner for adjudicating disability
claims. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520.
one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff last met the insured status
requirements of the Act on December 31, 2006, and that she
has not engaged in substantial gainful activity
("SGA") during the relevant period, given the
absence of earnings records for this time.
two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the following
"severe" impairments: degenerative disc disease in
the lumbar spine, with herniation and hip pain; and obesity.
The ALJ found that Plaintiff s high blood pressure and
hypercholesterolemia were not "severe" impairments
because the high blood pressure was controlled with
medication, and only conservative treatment (e.g., weight
loss and dietary changes) was recommended for the
hypercholesterolemia. The ALJ declined to find
Plaintiff's alleged loss of bladder control to be a
"severe" impairment because it has not been
diagnosed by any treating sources, and she did not seek
treatment for it. Finally, the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff's headaches were not "severe" because
Plaintiff noted improvement of them without treatment.
three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff does not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that meets or
medically equals the severity of one of the listed
impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. The
ALJ gave particular consideration to Listing 1.04, but
determined that the record did not contain evidence of the
requisite nerve root compression, spinal arachnoiditis, or
lumbar spinal stenosis; nor did it contain evidence that
Plaintiff s back disorder has resulted in an inability to
ambulate effectively. At most, the ALJ noted, Plaintiff has
displayed some difficulty rising out of her chair and a stiff
gait, but she has retained functioning in her legs and is
able to ambulate independently without an assistive device.
to proceeding to step four, the ALJ assessed Plaintiff has
having the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to
perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §
404.1567(b), with certain limitations. Specifically,
Plaintiff is limited to lifting up to 15 pounds occasionally
and 10 pounds frequently; she requires a sit/stand option
that allows her to change position every 60 minutes for up to
5 minutes at a time, without leaving the work station; she
cannot work overhead; she cannot bend or stoop to the floor;
and she can occasionally crouch, balance on narrow, slippery
or moving surfaces, climb, kneel, and crawl.
four, the ALJ discussed Plaintiff s past relevant work
("PRW") as a nurse assistant (DOT #355.674-014),
which the VE classified as medium, semi-skilled work (SVP 4).
Plaintiff also had PRW as a psychiatric aide (DOT
#355.377-014), which is medium, semi-skilled work (SVP 4) .
Within the last 15 years, Plaintiff performed them at the SGA
level, and for a long enough period for her to learn the
skills associated with each job. Because both positions are
performed at an exertional level greater than Plaintiff s
RFC, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff is unable to perform
the date last insured, Plaintiff was a "younger
individual age 18-49, " according to the Regulations.
She had only a limited education, having left school in the
9th grade and failed to obtain an equivalency
diploma. The ALJ relied on the VE's testimony to find
that Plaintiff could perform representative occupations such
as counter clerk (DOT #249366-010, light, unskilled (SVP 2),
108, 649 jobs in the national economy) and small product
assembly I (DOT #706.684-022, ...