United States District Court, W.D. New York
MARGARET M. WOLF, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
DECISION AND ORDER
MICHAEL A. TELESCA United States District Judge.
by counsel, plaintiff Margaret M. Wolf
(“plaintiff”) brings this action pursuant to the
Social Security Act (the “Act”), seeking review
of the final decision of defendant the Acting Commissioner of
Social Security (the “Commissioner” or
“defendant”) denying her application for
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, plaintiff's
motion is granted to the extent that this case is remanded to
the Commissioner for further administrative proceedings
consistent with this Decision and Order, and the
Commissioner's motion is denied.
protectively filed an application for SSI on July 19, 2012,
which was denied. Administrative Transcript
(“T.”) 49-60, 109-14. At plaintiff's request,
a hearing was held before administrative law judge
(“ALJ”) Robert C. Dorf on July 29, 2013. T.
25-43. On August 27, 2013, ALJ Dorf issued a decision in
which he found that plaintiff was not disabled as defined in
the act. T. 9-21. The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's
request for review, rendering the ALJ's determination the
Commissioner's final decision. T. 1-5. This action
The ALJ's Decision
one of the five-step sequential evaluation, see 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520, 416.920, the ALJ determined that
plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since July 19, 2012, the alleged onset date. T. 14. At step
two, the ALJ found that plaintiff suffered from the severe
impairments of mood disorder, NOS, and substance abuse
disorder. Id. At step three, the ALJ found
that plaintiff's impairments, including the substance use
disorders, met sections 12.04, 12.06, and 12.09 of 20 CFR
Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 416.920(d)).
1996, Congress enacted the Contract with America Advancement
Act . . .which amended the Act by providing that [a]n
individual shall not be considered ... disabled ... if
alcoholism or drug addiction would ... be a contributing
factor material to the Commissioner's determination that
the individual is disabled.” Cage v. Comm'r of
Soc. Sec., 692 F.3d 118, 123 (2d Cir. 2012) (internal
quotations omitted). Accordingly, the ALJ next considered
whether, if plaintiff stopped her substance abuse, the
remaining limitations would cause more than a minimal impact
on her ability to perform basic work activities, and
concluded that they would. T. 16. However, the ALJ also
concluded that if plaintiff stopped her substance abuse, she
would not have an impairment or combination of impairments
that would meet or medically equal one of the listed
impairments set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 1. Id.
proceeding to step four, the ALJ determined that, if
plaintiff stopped her substance abuse and considering all of
plaintiff's impairments, plaintiff retained the RFC to
perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b)
“except that [she] is limited to performing simple,
routine, and repetitive tasks in a low stress environment
requiring no decision-making and no numerical production
daily quota work. In addition, [she] is precluded from
operating machinery, can only occasionally climb stairs, and
can tolerate only occasional exposure to dusts, gases, fumes,
and temperature extremes.” T. 17.
four, the ALJ found that plaintiff had no past relevant work.
T. 19. At step five, the ALJ concluded that, considering
plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC,
there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the
national economy that plaintiff could perform if she stopped
her substance abuse. T. 20. Accordingly, the ALJ found
plaintiff not disabled.
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).
The ALJ Failed to Develop the Record
argues that remand of this case is required because the ALJ
failed to adequately develop the record regarding
plaintiff's impairments. In particular, plaintiff
contends that the ALJ made no effort to obtain missing mental
health records, despite having been put on notice that they
existed. The Court agrees that the ALJ failed to adequately
inquire into ...