Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Rivera v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. New York

January 11, 2018

HEISA RIVERA, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          DECISION AND ORDER

          HON. MICHAEL A. TELESCA UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. Introduction

         Represented by counsel, Heisa Rivera(“plaintiff”) has brought 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[1] (“defendant” or “the Commissioner”) denying her application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). This Court has jurisdiction over the matter pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Presently before the Court are the parties' competing motions for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons set forth below, plaintiff's motion is denied and defendant's motion is granted.

         II. Procedural History

         On December 15, 2011, plaintiff protectively filed an application for SSI. Administrative Transcript (“T.”) 73. Plaintiff's claim was initially denied, and she timely requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). T. 74-78. ALJ Curtis Axelson held a hearing on October 21, 2013, and November 7, 2013, at which plaintiff was represented by attorney Kelly Laga. T. 37-66. On January 9, 2014, ALJ Axelson issued a decision in which he found plaintiff not disabled. T. 13-34. Plaintiff's request for Appeals Council review was denied on April 14, 2015, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. T. 1-6. Plaintiff subsequently commenced the instant action.

         III. The ALJ's Decision

         At step one of the five-step sequential evaluation, see 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920, the ALJ found that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 15, 2011, the alleged onset date. T. 21. At step two, the ALJ found that plaintiff had the severe impairments of depression, posttraumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”), learning disorder, and asthma and the non-severe impairments of diabetes, hypertension, and hypothyroidism. T. 21-23. At step three, the ALJ found that plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled a listed impairment. T. 23. Before proceeding to step four, the ALJ found that plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels, with the following non-exertional limitations: is limited to work involving unskilled, routine, repetitive tasks and limited concentration, and is limited to environments without excessive environmental irritants. T. 25. At step four, the ALJ found that plaintiff had no past relevant work. T. 32. At step five, the ALJ found that, considering plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that plaintiff could perform. T. 33. Accordingly, the ALJ found that plaintiff was not disabled as defined in the Act. Id.

         IV. Scope 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. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); see 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 to support a conclusion.” Shaw v. Chater, 221 F.3d 126, 131 (2d Cir. 2000) (quotation omitted). “Where the Commissioner's decision rests on adequate findings supported by evidence having rational probative force, [the district court] will not substitute [its] judgment for that of the Commissioner.” Veino v. Barnhart, 312 F.3d 578, 586 (2d Cir. 2002). This deferential standard is not applied to the Commissioner's application of the law, and the district court must independently determine whether the Commissioner's decision applied the correct legal standards in determining that the claimant was not disabled. Townley v. Heckler, 748 F.2d 109, 112 (2d Cir. 1984).

         V. Discussion

         Plaintiff requests the Court to remand this matter for further administrative proceedings, arguing that: (1) the ALJ failed to properly take into account her illiteracy; (2) the ALJ failed to properly evaluate the impact of plaintiff's asthma on her ability to work; (3) the ALJ failed to properly evaluate the impact of plaintiff's obesity on her RFC; (4) the ALJ failed to properly evaluate the impact of plaintiff's visual impairment on her ability to work; and (5) the ALJ failed to properly consider the combined effects of plaintiff's severe and non-severe impairments. In response, the Commissioner requests the Court to uphold her determination that plaintiff is not disabled, arguing that it was supported by substantial evidence and free from legal error. For the reasons discussed below and based on a review of the record evidence, the Court finds that the Commissioner's determination that plaintiff is not disabled is supported by substantial evidence and is not subject to remand.

         A. Consideration of Plaintiff's Illiteracy

         Plaintiff was born and raised in Puerto Rico and is Spanish speaking. It is undisputed that she has only a second grade education and is unable to read or write in either Spanish or English. Plaintiff further claims that she is unable to speak any English, although, as the ALJ noted in his decision, there is evidence in the record indicating that she has some degree of English language capability. See T. 30. The ALJ expressly noted in his decision that plaintiff is illiterate (T. 32), and the Commissioner does not dispute that conclusion here.

         Plaintiff argues that, because she is illiterate, it was impermissible for the ALJ to rely on the Medical-Vocational Guidelines (the “Grids”) in determining that she was not disabled. She contends that the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (the “DOT”), of which the Commissioner's regulations take administrative notice, provides that all the jobs identified therein require the ability to read 95-120 words per minute, recognize 2, 500 two and three syllable words, and print simple sentences, and that she lacks any such ability. Accordingly, she argues that the ALJ ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.