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Shelley v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. New York

November 2, 2017

JEAN M. SHELLEY, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          DECISION AND ORDER

          HON. MICHAEL A. TELESCA, United States District Judge

         I. Introduction

         Represented by counsel, Jean M. Shelley (“Plaintiff”) brings this action pursuant to Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (“the Act”), seeking review of the final decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security[1] (“Defendant” or “the Commissioner”) denying her application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income (“SSI”). For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision is reversed, and the matter is remanded for further administrative proceedings..

         II. Procedural History

         On October 3, 2012, Plaintiff protectively filed applications for DIB and SSI alleging disability beginning January 21, 2008, due to lumbar disc problems, migraines, high cholesterol, complications from a possible stroke, anxiety, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (“GERD”). (T.54-79, 150-57).[2] Plaintiff's applications were denied on May 9, 2013, and she timely requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). (T.94-95). ALJ Marie Greener held a hearing on September 15, 2014. (T.33-53). On November 28, 2014, ALJ Greener issued a decision in which she found Plaintiff was not disabled as defined in the Act. (T.17-31). On March 25, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (T.1-6). This timely action followed.

         Presently 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. For the reasons discussed below, Plaintiff's motion is granted, and the Commissioner's motion is denied.

         III. The ALJ's Decision

         Initially, the ALJ found that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through September 30, 2014. (T.220). At step one of the five-step sequential evaluation, see 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 21, 2008, the alleged onset date. (Id.). At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the severe impairments of cervical spinal and lumbar spinal degenerative disc disease with herniated nucleus pulposus. (Id.). At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of a listed impairment. (T.23-24).

         Before proceeding to step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform the full range of sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR §§ 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a), with the ability to lift/carry 10 pounds occasionally and less than 10 pounds frequently; to sit 6 hours in a routine 8-hour workday; and to stand/walk 2 hours total in a routine 8-hour workday. (T.24-27).

         At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work. (T.26). At step five, the ALJ found that, considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, that jobs exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform. (T.26). Accordingly, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled. (T.27).

         IV. Scope of Review

         A 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 deferential standard of review for substantial evidence does not apply to the Commissioner's conclusions of law.” Byam v. Barnhart, 336 F.3d 172, 179 (2d Cir. 2003) (citing Townley v. Heckler, 748 F.2d 109, 112 (2d Cir. 1984)).

         V. Discussion

         Plaintiff makes the following arguments in support of her motion for judgment on the pleadings: (1) the ALJ failed to properly consider Plaintiff's migraines and headaches at step two; (2) the ALJ's RFC determination is not supported by substantial evidence because (a) the ALJ failed to correctly weigh treating physician Dr. Alves' opinion, and failed to reconcile certain limitations in consultative physician Dr. Persaud's ...


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