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Davis-Payne v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. New York

January 5, 2018





         Represented by counsel, Chanikka M. Davis-Payne (“Plaintiff”) instituted this action pursuant to Title XVI of the Social Security Act (“the Act”), seeking review of the final decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security (“the Commissioner”)[1] denying her application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). The Court has jurisdiction over the matter pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c).


         On May 15, 2012, Plaintiff filed an application for SSI, which was denied at the initial level. At Plaintiff's request, a hearing was conducted by administrative law judge Robert T. Harvey (“the ALJ”) on February 11, 2014. Plaintiff appeared with her attorney testified at the hearing, as did vocational expert Jennifer Dizon (“the VE”). The ALJ considered the claim de novo and issued an unfavorable decision on March 20, 2014. (T.46-64).[2] The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on March 31, 2015, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. This action followed.

         Before the Court are the parties' cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings. The Court will discuss the record evidence further below, as necessary to the resolution of the parties' contentions. For the reasons discussed below, the Commissioner's decision is reversed, and the matter is remanded for further administrative proceedings.


         The ALJ followed the five-step sequential evaluation for determining whether an individual is disabled, see 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a). At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity (“SGA”) since the application date (May 15, 2012), which is also her amended onset date. (T.51).

         At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: status post anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (“ACDF”) at ¶ 3-5, migraine headaches, cervical radiculopathy, and discogenic lumbar spine. (T.51). The ALJ found that Plaintiff's bilateral hip pain and obesity do not cause significant work-related functional limitations and therefore are not severe. (T.52).

         At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. §§ 416.920(d), 416.925, 416.926). (T.52). The ALJ gave particular consideration to Listings 1.03 (Reconstructive surgery or surgical arthrodesis of a major weight-bearing joint, with inability to ambulate effectively), 1.04A (Disorders of the spine with evidence of, e.g., nerve root compression), and 11.00 (Neurological disorders).

         The ALJ proceeded to assess Plaintiff as having the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(b), except that she has occasional limitations in climbing, stooping, squatting, kneeling, and balancing; occasional limitation in the ability to reach in all directions; occasional limitation in pushing and/or pulling with the upper extremities; no ability to climb ropes, ladders, or scaffolds; and no ability to crawl. In addition, she cannot work in areas where she would be exposed to cold. (T.52).

         At step four, the ALJ noted that Plaintiff was 34 years-old on the application date. She obtained her general equivalency degree (“GED”) in 1997 (T.217), and thus had at least a high school education. She previously worked sporadically in an assembly position factory, a representative in a teletech call center, a hairdresser, and a housekeeper in a hotel (T.217), but her earnings were below SGA during the 15 years prior to her SSI application. (T.51). The ALJ accordingly found that she did not did not have any past relevant work. (T.59).

         At step five, the ALJ relied on the VE's testimony (T.94-95) that a person of Plaintiff's age, and with her education, work experience, and RFC, can perform representative occupations that exist in significant numbers in the national economy, including mail room clerk (Dictionary of Occupational Titles (“DOT”) No. 209.687-026, light, unskilled, of which there are 102, 410 positions in the national economy) and ticket seller (DOT No. 211.467-030, light, unskilled, of which there are 106, 860 jobs in the national economy). (T.59-60). Accordingly, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has not been under a disability as defined in the act since the application date. (T.60).

         SCOPE ...

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