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A.J.H. v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, N.D. New York

August 24, 2017

A.J.H. a minor, by ALISHA MACK, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY Defendant.

          OLINKSY LAW GROUP HOWARD D. OLINSKY, ESQ. Counsel for Plaintiff.

          U.S. SOCIAL SECURITY ADMIN. SIXTINA FERNANDEZ, ESQ. OFFICE OF REG'L GEN. COUNSEL-REGION II Counsel for Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

          William B. Mitchell Carter, U.S. Magistrate Judge.

         This matter was referred to me, for all proceedings and entry of a final judgment, pursuant to the Social Security Pilot Program, N.D.N.Y. General Order No. 18, and in accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), Fed.R.Civ.P. 73, N.D.N.Y. Local Rule 73.1 and the consent of the parties. (Dkt. Nos. 12, 13.)

         Currently before the Court, in this Social Security action filed by Alisha Mack (“Plaintiff”) on behalf of a minor, A.J.H. (“Claimant”) against the Commissioner of Social Security (“Defendant” or “the Commissioner”) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), are the parties' cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings. (Dkt. Nos. 9, 10.) For the reasons set forth below, it is ordered that Plaintiff's motion be denied and Defendant's motion be granted.

         I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         Claimant was born in 2008, at the time of filing Claimant was a preschooler and at the time of the hearing she was a school-age child. 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(g). Claimant's alleged disability consists of cerebral palsy. (T. 279.)

         B. Procedural History

         On September 25, 2012, Plaintiff applied for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act on Claimant's behalf. (T. 275.) Plaintiff's application was initially denied, after which she timely requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“the ALJ”). On March 26, 2014, and again on October 23, 2014, Plaintiff and Claimant appeared before the ALJ, John M. Lischak. (T. 35-95, 96-121.) On February 21, 2014, ALJ Lischak issued a written decision finding Claimant not disabled under the Social Security Act. (T. 15-34.) On May 16, 2016, the Appeals Council (“AC”) denied Plaintiff's request for review, rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (T. 1-6.) Thereafter, Plaintiff timely sought judicial review in this Court.

         C. The ALJ's Decision

         Generally, in his decision, the ALJ made the following six findings of fact and conclusions of law. First, the ALJ found that Claimant was a “preschooler” at the time of filing and a “school-age child” at the time of the hearing pursuant to 20 C.F.R. § 416.926a(g). (T. 21.) Second, the ALJ found that Claimant had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the application date. (Id.) Third, the ALJ found that Claimant suffered from the severe impairment of cerebral palsy. (Id.) Fourth, the ALJ found that Claimant did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix I (“the Listings”). (Id.) Fifth, the ALJ found that Claimant did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that functionally equaled an impairment set forth in the Listings. (T. 21-30.) Sixth, and finally, the ALJ concluded Claimant had not been disabled, as defined by the Social Security Act, since September 25, 2012, the date her application was filed. (T. 24.)

         II. THE PARTIES' BRIEFINGS

         A. Plaintiff's Arguments

         Generally, in support of her motion for judgment on the pleadings, Plaintiff makes two arguments. First, Plaintiff argues the ALJ should have found Claimant disabled under Listing § 111.07 for cerebral palsy. (Dkt. No. 9 at 13-15 [Pl.'s Mem. of Law].) Second, and lastly, Plaintiff argues the ALJ's credibility determination was unsupported by substantial evidence. (Id. at 15-16.)

         B. Defendant's Argument

         Generally, in support of her cross-motion for judgment on the pleadings, Defendant makes two arguments. Defendant argues substantial evidence supported the ALJ's finding that Claimant's impairment did not meet or equal the requirements of a Listed impairment. (Dkt. No. 10 at 5-11 [Def.'s Mem. of Law].) Second, and lastly, Defendant argues the ALJ properly evaluated the credibility of Plaintiff and Claimant. (Id. at 11-13.)

         III. RELEVANT LEGAL STANDARD

         A court reviewing a denial of disability benefits may not determine de novo whether an individual is disabled. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3); Wagner v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 906 F.2d 856, 860 (2d Cir. 1990). Rather, the Commissioner's determination will only be reversed if the correct legal standards were not applied, or it was not supported by substantial evidence. See Johnson v. Bowen, 817 F.2d 983, 986 (2d Cir. 1987) (“Where there is a reasonable basis for doubt whether the ALJ applied correct legal principles, application of the substantial evidence standard to uphold a finding of no disability creates an unacceptable risk that a claimant will be deprived of the right to have her disability determination made according to the correct legal principles.”); see Grey v. Heckler, 721 F.2d 41, 46 (2d Cir. 1983); Marcus v. Califano, 615 F.2d 23, 27 (2d Cir. 1979).

         “Substantial evidence” is evidence that amounts to “more than a mere scintilla, ” and it has been defined as “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 1427 (1971). Where evidence is deemed susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the Commissioner's conclusion must be upheld. See Rutherford v. Schweiker, 685 F.2d 60, 62 (2d Cir. 1982).

         “To determine on appeal whether the ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence, a reviewing court considers the whole record, examining evidence from both sides, because an analysis of the substantiality of the evidence must also include that which detracts from its weight.” Williams v. Bowen, 859 F.2d 255, 258 (2d Cir. 1988).

         If supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's finding must be sustained “even where substantial evidence may support the plaintiff's position and despite that the court's independent analysis of the evidence may differ from the [Commissioner's].” Rosado v. Sullivan, 805 F.Supp. 147, 153 (S.D.N.Y. 1992). In other words, this Court must afford the Commissioner's determination considerable deference, and may not substitute “its own judgment for that of the [Commissioner], even if it might ...


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