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Maxwell v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. New York

November 2, 2017

NIKIYA T. MAXWELL, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          DECISION AND ORDER

          MICHAEL A. TELESCA, United States District Judge

         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff Nikiya T. Maxwell(“plaintiff”) brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), alleging that defendant Nancy A. Berryhill, the Acting Commissioner of Social Security (the “Commissioner” or “defendant”), improperly denied her application for supplemental security income. Currently before the Court are the parties' competing motions for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The parties' motions were referred to Magistrate Judge Jeremiah J. McCarthy for consideration of the factual and legal issues presented, and to prepare and file a Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) containing a recommended disposition of the issues raised.

         On July 19, 2017, Judge McCarthy issued an R&R (Docket No. 16) recommending that plaintiff's motion be granted to the extent that the matter be remanded for further administrative proceedings and that defendant's motion be denied. For the reasons discussed below, the Court agrees with Judge McCarthy's findings and adopts the R&R in its entirety.

         II. Discussion

         A. Legal Standard

         When specific objections are made to a magistrate judge's report and recommendation, the district judge makes a “de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). When no objections or only general objections are made, the district judge reviews the report and recommendation for clear error or manifest injustice. See, e.g., DiPilato v. 7-Eleven, Inc., 662 F.Supp.2d 333, 339 (S.D.N.Y. 2009). After conducting the appropriate review, the district court may “accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C).

         B. Plaintiff's Arguments and Judge MCarthy's R&R

         In support of her motion for judgment on the pleadings, plaintiff contended that the administrative law judge's (“ALJ”) decision finding her not disabled was not supported by substantial evidence and was based on legal error. In particular, plaintiff argued that the ALJ failed to properly evaluate her medically determinable impairments of headaches, low back pain, and recurrent abscesses, and that the ALJ failed to properly assess her credibility.

         In his R&R, Judge McCarthy rejected plaintiff's contention that the ALJ had failed to properly assess her medically determinable impairments, determining that any errors made in this regard were harmless. However, Judge McCarthy agreed with plaintiff that the ALJ failed to properly assess here credibility. In particular, Judge McCarthy noted that the ALJ had misstated plaintiff's testimony regarding her activities of daily living, and had ignored entirely certain significant restrictions such as needing to sit while performing any sort of household chores. Judge McCarthy further explained that the error was not harmless because had the ALJ performed a proper credibility analysis, he could have concluded that plaintiff was unable to stand for two hours per day, as is required to perform sedentary work. Accordingly, Judge McCarthy recommended that plaintiff's motion be granted and that the case be remanded to permit the Commissioner to conduct an appropriate credibility analysis.

         C. The Commissioner's Objections

         The Commissioner has filed objections to Judge McCarthy's R&R, arguing that “[r]egardless of whether the ALJ accurately represented Plaintiff's stated limitations of activities of daily living, the record is replete with evidence that Plaintiff is capable of standing for two hours.” Docket No. 18 at 3. The Commissioner contends that the ALJ's determination was therefore supported by substantial evidence and that the Commissioner's determination that plaintiff is not disabled should be affirmed.

         In response to the Commissioner's objections, plaintiff argues that the Commissioner has failed to rebut Judge McCarthy's conclusion that the ALJ's credibility analysis was faulty. Plaintiff notes that one purpose of the credibility analysis is to permit claimants to offer proof that may not be readily apparent from the medical evidence and argues that the ALJ's mischaracterization of plaintiff's activities of daily living defeated this purpose.

         D. ...


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