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Teska v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. New York

November 21, 2017

JESSICA MARIE TESKA Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL,[1] Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          LAW OFFICES OF KENNETH R. HILLER Attorneys for Plaintiff TIMOTHY HILLER, of Counsel

          JAMES P. KENNEDY ACTING UNITED STATES ATTORNEY Attorney for Defendant

          EMILY M. FISHMAN Assistant United States Attorney, of Counsel

          STEPHEN P. CONTE Regional Chief Counsel United States Social Security Administration Office of the General Counsel, of Counsel

          DECISION AND ORDER

          LESLIE G. FOSCHIO, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         JURISDICTION

         On May 17, 2016, the parties consented, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), to proceed before the undersigned. (Dkt. No. 14). The court has jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The matter is presently before the court on the parties' cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, filed by Plaintiff on December 10, 2015 (Dkt. 9), and by Defendant on March 1, 2016 (Dkt 12). For the reasons discussed below, Plaintiff's motion is denied and the Commissioner's motion is granted.

         BACKGROUND and FACTS

         Plaintiff Jessica Teska (“Plaintiff “), brings this action pursuant to the Social Security Act (“the Act”), seeking review of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security (“the Commissioner” or “defendant”) decision denying her application for disability benefits for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) benefits under Title II of the Act, and Social Security Disability Insurance (“SSDI”) benefits under Title XVI of the Act, together (“disability benefits”). Plaintiff, born on May 27, 1992, alleges that she became disabled on May 27, 2010, from stress resulting after a breakup with her boyfriend and family issues. (R. 45).

         Plaintiff filed an application for Social Security Child's Insurance benefits and Supplementary Security Income (“SSI”) benefits on October 4, 2012 (R. 142-48), that was initially denied by Defendant on December 28, 2012, and, pursuant to Plaintiff's request filed on January 29, 2013 (R. 95-97), a hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge Geitel Reich (“Reich” or “the ALJ”), on August 13, 2013, in New York, New York. (R. 41-55). Plaintiff, represented by Marie Carrubba, Esq. (“Carrubba”), appeared and testified at the hearing. The ALJ's decision denying Plaintiff's claim was rendered on October 2, 2013. (R. 18-37). Plaintiff requested review by the Appeals Council, and the ALJ's decision became Defendant's final decision when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on February 27, 2015. (R. 1-4). This action followed on April 27, 2015, with Plaintiff alleging that the ALJ erred by failing to find her disabled. (Doc. No. 1).

         On, December 10, 2015, Plaintiff filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings (“Plaintiff's motion”), accompanied by a memorandum of law (Doc. No. 9) (“Plaintiff's Memorandum”). Defendant filed, on March 1, 2016, Defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings (“Defendant's motion”), accompanied by a memorandum of law (Doc. No. 12) (“Defendant's Memorandum”). Plaintiff filed a reply to Defendant's motion on the pleadings on March 30, 2016, (“Plaintiff's Reply Memorandum”) (Doc. No. 13). Oral argument was deemed unnecessary.

         DISCUSSION

         A district court may set aside the Commissioner's determination that a claimant is not disabled if the factual findings are not supported by substantial evidence, or the decision is based on legal error. See 42 U.S.C. 405(g); 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.'” Shaw v. Chater, 221 F.3d 126, 131 (2d Cir. 2000). At step one of the sequential evaluation, see 20 C.F.R. ' ' 404.1520, 416.920, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 27, 2010, Plaintiff's alleged onset date of disability. (R.18). At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments of bipolar disorder, mood disorder, panic disorder with agoraphobia, personality disorder with borderline features, and asthma. (R. 20). At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or medically equal the criteria for disability under Appendix 1 of 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P (“The Listing of Impairments”), specifically 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, Appendix 1, § 12.04 (“§ 12.04") (Affective disorders), 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, Appendix 1, ' 12.06 (“' 12.06”) (Anxiety related disorders), and 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, Appendix 1, § 14.00 (“§ 14.00") (Immune system disorders). (R. 25). Plaintiff does not contest the ALJ's findings at steps one through three of the disability review process.

         Once an ALJ finds a disability claimant does not have a severe medically determinable physical or mental impairment, 20 C.F.R. § § 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), that significantly limits the claimant's physical and mental ability to do work activities, Berry, 675 F.2d at 467, and the claimant is not able, based solely on medical evidence, to meet the criteria established for an impairment listed under Appendix 1, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that despite the claimant's severe impairment, the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform alternative work, 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv), and prove that substantial gainful work exists that the claimant is able to perform in light of the claimant's physical capabilities, age, education, experience, and training. Parker, 626 F.2d 225 at 231. To make such a determination, the Commissioner must first show that the applicant's impairment or impairments are such that they nevertheless permit certain basic work activities essential for other employment opportunities. Decker v. Harris, 647 F.2d 291, 294 (2d Cir. 1981). Specifically, the Commissioner must demonstrate by substantial evidence the applicant's "residual functional capacity" with regard to the applicant's strength and "exertional capabilities." Id. An individual's exertional capability refers to the performance of "sedentary, " ...


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