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Ortiz v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, W.D. New York

February 21, 2018

VERONICA ORTIZ, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          DECISION AND ORDER

          HON. MICHAEL A. TELESCA UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Represented by counsel, Veronica Ortiz (“Plaintiff”) has brought this action pursuant to Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (“the Act”), seeking review of the final decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security (“Defendant” or “the Commissioner”) denying her applications for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and 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 BACKGROUND

         On October 27, 2011, Plaintiff protectively filed a Title II application for DIB and a Title XVI application for SSI, alleging disability beginning December 31, 2010, due to a seizure disorder, lupus, high blood pressure, depression, and anxiety. Administrative Transcript (“T.”) 88-97, 187. Plaintiff's application was initially denied and she timely requested a hearing, which was held before administrative law judge (“ALJ”) Stanley Moskal, Jr. on June 3, 2013. T. 98-119, 128-138. On February 26, 2014, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. T. 60-83. Plaintiff's request for review was denied by the Appeals Council on July 17, 2015, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. T. 1-5. 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 Act on December 31, 2010. T. 62. At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity from December 31, 2010, the alleged onset date. Id.

         The ALJ split the remainder of his decision into two separate analyses. First, at step two, the ALJ determined that, from the alleged onset date through September 6, 2011, Plaintiff had the medically determinable impairments of high blood pressure and a history of asthma. Id. The ALJ further found that, from the alleged onset date through September 6, 2011, Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that significantly limited her ability to perform basic work-related activities for 12 consecutive months and that she therefore did not have a severe impairment or combination of impairments. Id. The ALJ thus concluded that, through her date last insured, Plaintiff had not been disabled as defined in the Act, and was not entitled to DIB. T. 67.

         In his second analysis, the ALJ considered whether Plaintiff was entitled to SSI for the period from September 7, 2011 to the date of the ALJ's decision. At step two, the ALJ determined that, commencing September 7, 2011, Plaintiff had the severe impairments of complex partial epilepsy and systemic lupus erythematosus (“SLE”). T. 67. The ALJ further determined that Plaintiff had the non-severe impairments of high blood pressure, history of asthma, headaches, affective disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder. T. 67-71.

         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. 78. Prior to proceeding to step four, the ALJ determined that, through the date last insured, Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform the full range of medium work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 416.967(c), with the following additional limitations: can lift and carry up to 25 pounds frequently and 50 pounds occasionally; can stand and walk about six hours out of an eight-hour workday; can sit about six hours out of an eight-hour workday; can push and pull up to 25 pounds frequently and 50 pounds occasionally; can occasionally climb stairs and ramps, balance, kneel, crouch, and crawl; can never climb ladders or scaffolds; has no visual or communicative limitations; should avoid working at unprotected heights or around hazards, extreme cold, extreme heat, wetness, humidity, fumes, gases, smoke, or other respiratory irritants. T. 79.

         At step four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had no past relevant work. T. 82. At step five, the ALJ relied on the Medical-Vocational Guidelines, 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2, to find that there are other jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy and state-wide that Plaintiff can perform. T. 82-83. The ALJ accordingly found that Plaintiff was not disabled as defined in the Act. T. 83.

         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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