United States District Court, E.D. New York
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
F. BIANCO United States District Judge.
se plaintiff Debra Hills (“plaintiff”)
commenced this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of
the Social Security Act (“SSA”), challenging the
final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the
“Commissioner”) denying plaintiff's
application for disability insurance benefits. An
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) found that
plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform the
full range of work at all exertional levels with certain
nonexertional limitations, of which there were a significant
number of jobs in the national economy, and, therefore, that
plaintiff was not disabled. The Appeals Council denied
plaintiff's request for review.
Commissioner now moves for judgment on the pleadings pursuant
to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). Plaintiff did not
file an opposition or a cross-motion. In any event, the Court
has still considered the merits of the petition. For the
reasons set forth below, the Court finds that the
Commissioner's decision was based upon the application of
the correct legal standards and is supported by substantial
evidence. Accordingly, the Commissioner's motion for
judgment on the pleadings is granted.
following summary of the relevant facts is based on the
Administrative Record (“AR”) developed by the
ALJ. (ECF No. 10.)
was born on January 6, 1988 and resides in Farmingdale, New
York. (AR 31.) Education records from Brennan High School
reflect that, in testing performed when she was 16 years old,
plaintiff achieved a full-scale IQ score of 95, a performance
IQ score of 100, and a verbal IQ score of 87. (Id.
235.) Plaintiff received counseling and special education
services for emotional and behavioral difficulties.
(Id. 234, 268, 273.) She was schooled in a New York
State regular assessment program with accommodations.
(Id. 234, 265.)
Relevant Medical History
received mental health care from Nurse Practitioner
(“NP”) Michele Kelly in February 2013, when she
complained of depression, weight gain, and difficulty finding
a job. (Id. 321-22.) NP Kelly recorded
plaintiff's subjective complaints and prescribed a
three-month supply of Vyvanse, a central nervous system
stimulant; and Cymbalta, a medication for depression and
anxiety; as well as Ativan, to use on an as-needed basis for
anxiety. (Id.) The following month, NP Kelly again
documented plaintiff's subjective complaints and noted
that plaintiff reported no adverse reaction to the
medication. (Id. 322.) In April 2013, NP Kelly
adjusted plaintiff's medication regimen, which had not
caused any side effects, but was ineffective. (Id.
323.) Plaintiff next saw NP Kelly twice in June 2013, and she
did not alter plaintiff's medication regimen.
(Id.) NP Kelly again documented plaintiff's
reported condition, and plaintiff was reportedly happier on
her new medications and sleeping better. (Id.)
was evaluated by endocrinologist Dr. Nicoleta Ionica in June
2013. (Id. 341-44.) Plaintiff reported weight gain,
back pain, anxiety, emotional lability, depression, and sleep
disturbances. (Id. 342.) Upon examination, plaintiff
was fully oriented, alert, and appropriate, and her thyroid
was normal. (Id. 342-43.) Her sensation was intact,
a motor exam revealed no dysfunction, and her strength and
reflexes were normal. (Id. 343.) Dr. Ionica also
observed that plaintiff's eyes, lungs, heart, abdomen,
and skin were normal. (Id.) Dr. Ionica assessed
polycystic ovary syndrome (“PCOS”), ordered lab
work, and instructed plaintiff to follow up in two weeks.
following month, Dr. Ionica's physical examination
findings were unchanged. (Id. 345-47.) Dr. Ionica
again assessed PCOS, reviewed the results of a blood test,
recommended fish oil, encouraged exercise, and prescribed
treatment for a Vitamin D deficiency and to improve
plaintiff's insulin sensitivity. (Id. 348.)
next saw NP Kelly in August 2013, at which point NP Kelly
adjusted plaintiff's medication regimen. (Id.
324.) At her next visit in September 2013, NP Kelly
attributed much of plaintiff's anxiety and depression to
a possible hormonal imbalance. (Id. 325.) Notes
reflected dyslexia, a sleep disorder, panic attacks with
agoraphobia, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
(“ADHD”). (Id. 326.) In October 2013,
plaintiff expressed an interest in losing weight, noting that
she was distracted but not depressed. (Id. 334.)
Plaintiff expressed difficulty finding work in November 2013.
(Id. 327.) NP Kelly again recorded plaintiff's
subjective complaints and detailed her medication regimen.
a January 2014 visit, NP Kelly conducted a mental status
examination of plaintiff in which she described
plaintiff's appearance as casual and clean, and her
attitude as cooperative; noted that plaintiff related well;
and rated plaintiff's speech as within normal limits.
(Id. 357-58.) NP Kelly observed that plaintiff
maintained good eye contact and an appropriate affect, but
that she exhibited a depressed and anxious mood.
(Id. 358.) NP Kelly found plaintiff's thought
processes to be oriented, goal-directed, and coherent, and
that she measured full thought content without hallucinations
and paranoia. (Id.) Plaintiff's fund of
information, attention, and concentration were all
“fair.” (Id.) Subsequent treatment
visits with NP Kelly, in March, April, May, and July 2014,
did not reflect a material change in plaintiff's
condition or further examination findings. (Id.
presented to internist Dr. Scott Stein at Stony Brook
Internists in August 2014 for a check-up. (Id. 368.)
Plaintiff complained of worsening headaches, and Dr. Stein
ordered a magnetic resonance imaging (“MRI”) scan
of the brain to monitor her prolactinoma. (Id.) Dr.
Stein also observed an obese abdomen. (Id. 370.) He
diagnosed plaintiff with anxiety, prolactinoma, PCOS,
multiple nevi (atypical moles), an ingrown toenail, high
cholesterol, and diabetes. (Id. 370-71.) In
assessing a treatment plan, Dr. Stein characterized
plaintiff's depression as stable and noted that she was
cooperative; had an appropriate mood, affect, and normal
judgment; and was non-suicidal. (Id.) He recommended
that plaintiff continue taking Lexapro and advised her to
avoid fatty foods. (Id. 371.) An MRI scan of the
brain and pituitary gland was performed four days later and
revealed a small, stable left-sided macroadenoma that was
unchanged from a prior examination. (Id. 372.)
Medical Opinion Evidence
2, 2013, plaintiff's gynecologist, Dr. Lisa Rimpel,
opined that plaintiff had no functional limitations and was
not disabled. (Id. 289-93.)
attended an internal medicine consultative examination with
Dr. Andrea Pollack on July 23, 2013. (Id. 300-03.)
Plaintiff reported that she had been taking oral medication
for “prediabetes” since 2013 and had been
experiencing neck and hip pain since a car accident in 2009.
(Id. 300.) She also noted left ankle pain since age
15 after tearing ligaments in gym class, but was never
hospitalized for these conditions. (Id.) Plaintiff
stated that she was able to cook, clean, do laundry, shop,
shower, and dress on a daily basis, and that she also watched
television and socialized with friends. (Id. 301.)
Dr. Pollack's physical examination findings noted
slightly reduced flexion and adduction of the left hip.
(Id. 301-02.) X-rays of plaintiff's lumbosacral
spine and ankle were negative. (Id. 303-05.) Dr.
Pollack assessed prediabetes, neck pain, left hip pain, and
left ankle pain, for which plaintiff's prognosis was
“good.” (Id. 303.) Vocationally, Dr.
Pollack opined that plaintiff had a mild restriction in
walking, climbing stairs, and standing. (Id. 303.)
also appeared for a psychological consultative examination
with Dr. Kathleen Acer on July 23, 2013. (Id.
296-99.) Plaintiff drove herself to the examination and
reported difficulty sleeping, increased appetite, depressive
symptoms, distractibility, and panic attacks several times
per year. (Id. 296.) She denied symptoms of mania, a
thought disorder, or thoughts of suicide. (Id.)
Plaintiff acknowledged that she could dress, bathe, groom
herself, cook, clean, wash laundry, shop and drive.
(Id. 298.) She did not manage finances.
(Id.) Plaintiff socialized with friends and
otherwise spent her time taking care of her birds and doing
household chores. (Id.)
mental status examination, Dr. Acer observed that plaintiff
was pleasant and cooperative, dressed appropriately, well
groomed, that her motor behavior was normal, and that she
exhibited appropriate eye contact. (Id. 297.)
Plaintiff's speech was clear and fluent, she exhibited
adequate language skills, and her thought processes were
coherent and goal directed. (Id.) Plaintiff
exhibited the full range of affect, a euthymic (normal) mood,
and clear senses. (Id.) She was fully oriented, and
her attention, concentration, and memory were all intact.
(Id.) Dr. Acer measured plaintiff's
“intellectual skills” as average, her fund of
information as appropriate to experience, and her insight and
judgment as “good.” (Id. 297-98.)
Acer diagnosed dysthymic disorder. (Id.)
Vocationally, Dr. Acer opined that plaintiff did “not
appear to be significant[ly] limit[ed] in her ability to
follow and understand directions and instructions, perform
tasks, maintain attention and concentration, and maintain a
regular schedule.” (Id.) Dr. Acer said that
plaintiff “may have some difficulty dealing with stress
and making appropriate decisions.” (Id.) Dr.
Acer concluded that “[t]he results of the evaluation
d[id] appear to be consistent with some psychiatric issues;
however, in and of themselves they d[id] not appear to be
significant enough to interfere with functioning on a daily
Other Source Opinion Evidence
Kelly completed a “Psychiatric Assessment for
Determination of Employability” form regarding
plaintiff for the Suffolk County Department of Social
Services on April 10, 2013. (Id. 286-87.) She noted
diagnoses of anxiety not otherwise specified
(“NOS”), panic disorder with agoraphobia,
depression NOS, ADHD, and a Global Assessment of Functioning
(“GAF”) score of 35-50. (Id. 286.) NP
Kelly checked boxes on the form indicating that plaintiff
never experienced acute psychiatric hospitalization,
hospitalization for alcohol/drug use or attempted suicide;
that she occasionally needed medical hospitalization or
emergency room visits and occasionally decompensated; and
that plaintiff experienced frequent loss of job or failure to
complete an education or training program, and behavior that
interferes with activities of daily living. (Id.
287.) NP Kelly also checked boxes corresponding to
“[n]o evidence of limitation” for
“[m]aintains basic standards of personal hygiene and
grooming, ” and “[a]bility to use public
transportation.” (Id. 287.) NP Kelly checked
boxes corresponding to “[m]oderately limited” for
“[u]nderstands and remembers simple instructions,
” “[m]aintains attention and concentration,
” “[i]nteracts appropriately with others, ”
“[m]aintains socially acceptable behavior, ” and
ability to perform “[l]ow stress, simple tasks.”
(Id.) NP Kelly ...