United States District Court, N.D. New York
OF PETER HOBAICA, LLC Counsel for Plaintiff B. BROOKS BENSON,
SOCIAL SECURITY ADMIN. OFFICE OF REG'L GEN. COUNSEL -
REGION II Counsel for Defendant JAMES DESIR, ESQ.
MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER
William B. Mitchell Carter, U.S. Magistrate Judge.
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. 20, 21.)
before the Court, in this Social Security action filed by
Nina Ann Conners (“Plaintiff”) against the
Commissioner of Social Security (“Defendant” or
“the Commissioner”) pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), are the parties'
cross- motions for judgment on the pleadings. (Dkt. Nos. 14,
18.) For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's motion
is denied and Defendant's motion is granted.
was born in 1981. (T. 69.) She completed high school. (T.
224.) Generally, Plaintiff's alleged disability consists
of bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder
(“PTSD”), and anxiety. (T. 223.) Her alleged
disability onset date is June 30, 2010. (T. 69.) Her date
last insured is December 31, 2016. (T.) Her past relevant
work consists of cashier, housekeeper, prepper, and
residential counselor. (T. 225.)
March 12, 2013, Plaintiff applied for a period of Disability
Insurance Benefits (“SSD”) under Title II of the
Social Security Act. (T. 81.) Plaintiff's application was
initially denied, after which she timely requested a hearing
before an Administrative Law Judge (“the ALJ”).
On March 5, 2014, and again on June 26, 2014, Plaintiff
appeared before the ALJ, David J. Begley. (T. 29-36, 37-68.)
On October 27, 2014, ALJ Begley issued a written decision
finding Plaintiff not disabled under the Social Security Act.
(T. 9-28.) On May 25, 2016, the Appeals Council
(“AC”) denied Plaintiff's request for review,
rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the
Commissioner. (T. 1-4.) Thereafter, Plaintiff timely sought
judicial review in this Court.
The ALJ's Decision
in his decision, the ALJ made the following five findings of
fact and conclusions of law. (T. 14-24.) First, the ALJ found
that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements through
December 31, 2016 and Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since June 30, 2010. (T. 14.)
Second, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the severe
impairments of depressive disorder, NOS; anxiety disorder,
NOS; and polysubstance abuse. (Id.) Third, the ALJ
found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment that meets or
medically equals one of the listed impairments located in 20
C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix. 1. (T. 15.) Fourth, the
ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform a full range of work at all
exertional levels, but with non-exertional limitations. (T.
16.) The ALJ determined Plaintiff should avoid concentrated
exposure to irritants such as fumes, odors, dusts, gases, and
poorly ventilated areas. (Id.) He determined
Plaintiff should avoid hazardous machinery, unprotected
heights, and open flames. (Id.) He determined
Plaintiff could perform simple, routine, repetitive tasks;
could work in a low stress environment defined as having no
fixed production quotas, no hazardous conditions, requiring
only occasional decision making, and only occasional changes
in the work setting. (Id.) The ALJ determined
Plaintiff could tolerate occasional interaction with
coworkers and supervisors, and should have no direct
interaction with the general public. (Id.) Fifth,
the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was incapable of performing
her past relevant work; however, there were jobs that existed
in significant numbers in the national economy Plaintiff
could perform. (T. 23-24.)
THE PARTIES' BRIEFINGS ON PLAINTIFF'S MOTION
makes six separate arguments in support of her motion for
judgment on the pleadings. First, Plaintiff argues the ALJ
erred in failing to give controlling weight to treating
psychiatrist Stephen Hudyncia, M.D. that Plaintiff met
Listing §§ 12.04, 12.06, and 12.08 and equaled
Listing § 12.02. (Dkt. No. 14 at 13-17 [Pl.'s Mem.
of Law].) Second, Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred in failing
to give controlling weight to the RFC opinion of Dr.
Hudyncia. (Id. at 17-22.) Third, Plaintiff argues
the ALJ erred in giving only “some weight” to the
opinion of consultative examiner Cheryl Loomis, Ph.D. and
“great weight” to non-examining consultant L.
Hoffman, Ph.D. (Id. at 22-25.) Fourth, Plaintiff
argues the ALJ erred in his credibility determination.
(Id. at 25-28.) Fifth, Plaintiff argues the ALJ
erred in relying on the vocational expert (“VE”)
testimony as to jobs available to Plaintiff. (Id. at
28.) Sixth, and lastly, Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred in
failing to properly evaluate Plaintiff's obesity under
SSR 00-3p and 02-19p. (Id. at 29.)
response, Defendant makes four arguments. First, Defendant
argues substantial evidence supported the ALJ's
evaluation of the opinion evidence regarding Plaintiff's
mental limitations. (Dkt. No. 18 at 7-16 [Def.'s Mem. of
Law].) Second, Defendant argues the ALJ adequately considered
Plaintiff's obesity. (Id. at 17-18.) Third,
Defendant argues substantial evidence supported the ALJ's
evaluation of Plaintiff's subjective complaints.
(Id. at 18-20.) Fourth, and lastly, Defendant argues
substantial evidence supported the ALJ's step five
determination. (Id. at 20-22.)
RELEVANT LEGAL STANDARD
Standard of Review
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.”); Grey v. Heckler, 721 F.2d
41, 46 (2d Cir. 1983); Marcus v. Califano, 615 F.2d
23, 27 (2d Cir. 1979).
evidence” is evidence that amounts to “more than
a mere scintilla, ” and 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).
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).
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 justifiably have reached a different result upon
a de novo review.” Valente v. Sec'y of Health
& Human Servs., 733 F.2d 1037, 1041 (2d Cir. 1984).
Standard to Determine Disability
Commissioner has established a five-step evaluation process
to determine whether an individual is disabled as defined by
the Social Security Act. See 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520. The Supreme Court has recognized the validity of
this sequential evaluation process. See Bowen v.