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Smiley v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, N.D. New York

January 10, 2018

SARAH L. SMILEY, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          OFFICE OF CHRISTINE SCOFIELD Counsel for Plaintiff CHRISTINE A. SCOFIELD, ESQ.

          U.S. SOCIAL SECURITY ADMIN. OFFICE OF REG'L GEN. COUNSEL - REGION II Counsel for Defendant SUSAN J. REISS, ESQ.

          MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

          William B. Mitchell Carter, U.S. Magistrate Judge

         This 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. 2, 21.).

         Currently before the Court, in this Social Security action filed by Sarah L. Smiley (“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. 15, 18.) For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's motion is denied and Defendant's motion is granted.

         I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         Plaintiff was born in 1969. (T. 88.) She completed high school. (T. 93.) Generally, Plaintiff's alleged disability consists of anxiety, high blood pressure, “fluid around heart, ” high cholesterol, and asthma. (T. 92.) Her alleged disability onset date is May 31, 2012. (T. 28.) She has no past relevant work.

         B. Procedural History

         On October 15, 2012, Plaintiff applied for a period of Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. (T. 88.) Plaintiff's application was initially denied, after which she timely requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“the ALJ”). On October 15, 2014, Plaintiff appeared before the ALJ, Elizabeth J. Koennecke. (T. 562-590.) On January 20, 2015, ALJ Koennecke issued a written decision finding Plaintiff not disabled under the Social Security Act. (T. 14-26.) On August 16, 2016, the Appeals Council (“AC”) denied Plaintiff's request for review, rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (T. 8-12.) Thereafter, Plaintiff timely sought judicial review in this Court.

         C. The ALJ's Decision

         Generally, in her decision, the ALJ made the following five findings of fact and conclusions of law. (T. 19-26.) First, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since October 15, 2012. (T. 19.) Second, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the severe impairments of degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine, mild degenerative joint disease of the shoulder, and a mental impairment (variously characterized). (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. 20.) Fourth, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform the exertional demands of light work with additional limitations. (T. 22.)[1] The ALJ determined that Plaintiff could occasionally kneel, squat, bend, and reach. (Id.) The ALJ determined Plaintiff could not work at a job that required holding her head in a fixed position. (Id.) The ALJ determined that Plaintiff could understand and follow simple instructions and directions; perform simple and some complex tasks with supervision and independently; maintain attention/concentration for simple and some complex tasks; regularly attend to a routine and maintain a schedule; relate to and interact with others to the extent necessary to carry out simple tasks but should avoid work requiring more complex interaction or joint effort to achieve work goals; and handle reasonable levels of simple work-related stress in that she could make occasional simple decisions directly related to the completion of tasks in a stable, unchanging work environment. (Id.) Fifth, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had no past relevant work; however, there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy Plaintiff could perform. (T. 25-26.)

         II. THE PARTIES' BRIEFINGS ON PLAINTIFF'S MOTION

         A. Plaintiff's Arguments

         Plaintiff essentially argues that the ALJ erred in her RFC determination because she failed to account for Plaintiff's inability to maintain attention, concentration and/or attendance and failed to account for her respiratory limitations. (Dkt. No. 15 at 3-5 [Pl.'s Mem. of Law].) Plaintiff also appears to argue that she was prejudiced at the hearing and AC level because she proceeded pro se and did not know how to “address” the post hearing vocational expert testimony. (Id.)

         B. ...


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