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Wilson v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. New York

June 30, 2017

JOYCE WILSON, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          HON. MICHAEL A. TELESCA United States District Judge.


         Represented 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")[1] 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) .


         Plaintiff 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) .[2] 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.

         The 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.


         The ALJ followed the five-step sequential evaluation procedure established by the Commissioner for adjudicating disability claims. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520.

         At step 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.

         At step 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.

         At step 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.

         Prior 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.

         At step 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 her PRW.

         As of 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, ...

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