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Smith v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. New York

February 16, 2018

AMY SMITH, 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, Amy Smith (“Plaintiff”) has brought this action pursuant to Title II 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 disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). 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 BACKGROUND

         On June 12, 2012, Plaintiff protectively filed a Title II application for DIB, alleging disability beginning August 2, 2010, due to complex regional pain syndrome (“CRPS”). Administrative Transcript (“T.”) 65, 130, 134. Plaintiff's application was initially denied and she timely requested a hearing, which was held before administrative law judge (“ALJ”) Timothy M. McGuan on November 14, 2013. T. 39-64. On November 19, 2013, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. T. 16-30. Plaintiff's request for review was denied by the Appeals Council on July 8, 2015, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. T. 1-3. Plaintiff then timely commenced this action.

         III. THE ALJ'S DECISION

         The ALJ applied the five-step sequential evaluation promulgated by the Commissioner for adjudicating disability claims. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a). Initially, the ALJ found that Plaintiff last met the insured status requirements of the Acton December 31, 2012. T. 21. At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity from August 2, 2010, the alleged onset date, through December 31, 2012, the date last insured. Id.

         At step two, the ALJ determined that, through the date last insured, Plaintiff had the severe impairments of moderate right carpal tunnel syndrome, CRPS with pain in the wrist and elbow, obesity, early spondylosis, and “a tiny C7-T1 disc herniation.” Id.

         At step three, the ALJ considered Plaintiff's impairments and found that, singly or in combination, they did not meet or medically equal the severity of a listed impairment. T. 23. In particular, the ALJ considered Listings 1.02 and 1.04, as well as the neurological disorders found in section 11.00. T. 23-24.

         Prior to proceeding to step four, the ALJ determined that, through the date last insured, Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(a), with the following additional limitations: no limitations in her ability to sit, stand, or walk; can lift up to ten pounds frequently; cannot use dominant upper extremity to lift, carry, finger, or handle; should avoid concentrated exposure to cold temperatures. T. 24.

         At step four, the ALJ determined that, through the date last insured, the claimant was unable to perform any past relevant work. T. 28. At step five, the ALJ relied on a vocational expert's testimony to find that there are other jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy and state-wide that Plaintiff can perform, including receptionist and telephone operator. T. 28-29. The ALJ accordingly found that Plaintiff was not disabled as defined in the Act. T. 29.

         IV. DISCUSSION

         A. Scope of Review

         When considering a claimant's challenge to the decision of the Commissioner denying benefits under the Act, a district court must accept the Commissioner's findings of fact, provided that such findings are supported by “substantial evidence” in the record. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (the Commissioner's findings “as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive”). Although the reviewing court must scrutinize the whole record and examine evidence that supports or detracts from both sides, Tejada v. Apfel, 167 F.3d 770, 774 (2d Cir. 1998) (citation omitted), “[i]f there is substantial evidence to support the [Commissioner's] determination, it must be upheld.” Selian v. Astrue, 708 F.3d 409, ...


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