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Yuhnke v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. New York

January 9, 2018

KASEY L. YUHNKE Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL,[1] ACTING COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          JEREMIAH J. MCCARTHY United States Magistrate Judge.

         INTRODUCTION

         Before the court are the parties' cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings [1');">1');">1');">18, 22][2]which were referred to me for preparation of a Report and Recommendation [1');">1');">1');">18]. For the reasons stated below, I recommend that the determination of the Acting Commissioner be affirmed.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed an application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) benefits on June 1');">1');">1');">14, 201');">1');">1');">12 (T. 1');">1');">1');">145, 1');">1');">1');">155).[3] She alleges that she became disabled on April 1');">1');">1');">1, 201');">1');">1');">10 due to dermatomyositis[4], depression and anxiety (T. 1');">1');">1');">159). Her application was denied, and an administrative hearing was subsequently held before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Bruce Mazzarella on October 1');">1');">1');">16, 201');">1');">1');">13 (T. 25), at which plaintiff was represented by counsel. Plaintiff was 1');">1');">1');">19 years old, 5'0” tall, and weighed 86 pounds at the time of the hearing (T. 32). She completed high school and one year of college (T. 34). She has no work history (T. 1');">1');">1');">159) and lives with her grandmother in Las Vegas Nevada (T. 30-31');">1');">1');">1).

         On February 1');">1');">1');">12, 201');">1');">1');">14, ALJ Mazzarella determined that plaintiff suffered from severe impairments including dermatonyositis, celiac disease, and low weight (T. 1');">1');">1');">14), but she retained the residual functional capacity to perform light work because she could sit, stand or walk for an eight hour workday with only normal breaks and meal periods, can lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally and 1');">1');">1');">10 pounds frequently (T. 1');">1');">1');">15).

         Plaintiff appealed ALJ Mazzarella's decision to the Appeals Council, which denied the request for review making the ALJ's February 1');">1');">1');">12, 201');">1');">1');">14 determination the final decision of the Acting Commissioner (T. 1');">1');">1');">1-4). Plaintiff thereafter commenced this action.

         ANALYSIS

         A. Standard 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.” Shaw v. Chater, 1');">1');">1');">1 F.3d 1');">1');">1');">126');">221');">1');">1');">1 F.3d 1');">1');">1');">126, 1');">1');">1');">131');">1');">1');">1 (2d Cir. 2000) (quoting 42 U.S.C. §405(g)). Substantial evidence is that which a “reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion”. Consolidated Edison Co. of New York. Inc. v. NLRB, 1');">1');">1');">197');">305 U.S. 1');">1');">1');">197, 229 (1');">1');">1');">1938).

         It is well-settled that an adjudicator determining a claim for Social Security benefits employs a five-step sequential process. Shaw, 221');">1');">1');">1 F.3d at 1');">1');">1');">132; 20 C.F.R. §§404.1');">1');">1');">1520, 41');">1');">1');">16.920. In this case, it is not disputed that: (1');">1');">1');">1) plaintiff is not currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) plaintiff has at least one severe impairment that limits her mental or physical ability to do basic work activity; and (3) plaintiff cannot perform her past work. Plaintiff disputes ALJ Mazzarella's determinations at step three, that her dermatomyasitis fails to meet the Appendix 1');">1');">1');">1 listings, and at step five, that she retains the residual functional capacity to perform work. Plaintiff's Memorandum of Law [1');">1');">1');">18-1');">1');">1');">1], pp. 1');">1');">1');">10-1');">1');">1');">11');">1');">1');">1.

         The plaintiff bears the burden of proof with respect to the step three determination (see Orton v. Astrue, 201');">1');">1');">13 WL 3328025, *1');">1');">1');">10 (N.D.N.Y. 201');">1');">1');">13)); while the Acting Commissioner bears the burden of proof with respect to step five. See Talavera v. Astrue, 1');">1');">1');">145');">697 F.3d 1');">1');">1');">145 (2d. Cir. 201');">1');">1');">12). In addition, plaintiff argues that she was denied a fair hearing due to preconceived bias on the part of ALJ Mazzarella. Plaintiff's Memorandum of Law [1');">1');">1');">18-1');">1');">1');">1], p. 9.

         B.ALJ Bias

         Plaintiff asserts that ALJ Mazzarella demonstrated a “preconceived bias” against her. Plaintiff's Memorandum of Law [1');">1');">1');">18-1');">1');">1');">1], p. 9. She claims that he “interrupted [her], he answered the questions for her . . ., he talked down to her . . . and he interjected his opinions on ...


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