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Gandino v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, N.D. New York

February 22, 2018

MARY JANE GANDINO, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          OLINSKY LAW GROUP COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF

          U.S. SOCIAL SECURITY ADMIN. OFFICE OF REG'L GEN. COUNSEL - REGION II COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT

          HOWARD D. OLINSKY, ESQ. JASON PECK, 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. 22, 23.)

         Currently before the Court, in this Social Security action filed by Mary Jane Gandino (“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. 19, 20.) 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. 89.)[1] She completed high school. (T. 173.) Generally, Plaintiff's alleged disability consists of migraines, pain in her knees, back, feet, and between her shoulder blades, fatigue, stiffness in the joints and back, and depression. (T. 177.) Her alleged disability onset date is June 3, 2008. (T. 89.) Her date last insured is December 31, 2013. (Id.) She previously worked as a tuning supporter for a cable filter company. (T. 173.)

         B. Procedural History

         In May 2010, Plaintiff applied for a period of Disability Insurance Benefits (“SSD”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. (T. 89.) Plaintiff's applications were initially denied, after which she timely requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“the ALJ”). On June 9, 2011, Plaintiff appeared before the ALJ, Bruce S. Fein. (T. 43-88.) On September 22, 2011, ALJ Fein issued a written decision finding Plaintiff not disabled under the Social Security Act. (T. 25-42.) On May 8, 2013 the Appeals Council (“AC”) denied Plaintiff's request for review, rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (T. 1-5.)[2] Plaintiff appealed in the Northern District of New York and on December 12, 2014, the Commissioner's decision was reversed and remanded pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Sec. 405(g), sentence four, for further proceedings. (S. 630-650.) On April 17, 2015, the AC issued a remand order for further proceedings consistent with the order of the district court. (S. 651-671, 672-676.) On September 3, 2015 Plaintiff again appeared before ALJ Fein. (S. 105-139.) On November 9, 2015, ALJ Fein issued a written decision finding Plaintiff not disabled under the Social Security Act. (T. 503-517.)[3] Thereafter, Plaintiff timely sought judicial review in this Court.

         C. The ALJ's Decision

         Generally, in his decision, the ALJ made the following five findings of fact and conclusions of law. (T. 503-517.) First, the ALJ found that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements through December 31, 2013 and Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 3, 2008. (T. 503.) Second, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the severe impairments of fibromyalgia, Raynaud's phenomenon, migraine headaches, and asthma. (T. 504.) 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. 507.) Fourth, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform:

light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. [§§] 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) and is able to lift/carry up to 10 [lbs.] and 20 lbs. frequently, sit 6 hours with normal breaks[, ] stand/walk 6 hours [with] normal breaks and is occasionally able to perform all postural activities including stooping, balancing and climbing stairs but should avoid climbing ropes/ladders/scaffolds, kneeling/crouching/crawling. Manipulative tasks such as handling/fingering/feeling can be performed frequently. Environmental limitations require avoidance of concentrated exposure to extreme cold/heat, irritants such as fumes/odors/gases/dust/poorly ventilated areas and unprotected heights. [Plaintiff] should perform goal-oriented work instead of production rate or pace work.

(T. 508.)[4] Fifth, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was incapable of performing her past relevant work; however, there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy Plaintiff could perform. (T. 515-516.)

         II. THE PARTIES' BRIEFINGS ON PLAINTIFF'S MOTION

         A. Plaintiff's Arguments

         Plaintiff makes two separate arguments in support of her motion for judgment on the pleadings. First, Plaintiff argues the ALJ failed to properly consider Plaintiff's mental impairments and limitations. (Dkt. No. 19 at 20-25 [Pl.'s Mem. of Law].) Second, and lastly, Plaintiff argues the RFC determination was not supported by substantial evidence. (Id. at 25-27.)

         B. Defendant's Arguments

         In response, Defendant makes two arguments. First, Defendant argues the ALJ adequately considered Plaintiff's mental impairments and limitations. (Dkt. No. 20 at 8-13 [Def.'s Mem. of Law].) Second, and lastly, Defendant argues substantial evidence supported the RFC finding for a limited range of unskilled light work. (Id. at 13-16.)

         III. RELEVANT LEGAL STANDARD

         A. Standard of Review

         A court reviewing a denial of disability benefits may not determine de novo whether an individual is disabled. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3); Wagner v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 906 F.2d 856, 860 (2d Cir. 1990). Rather, the Commissioner's determination will only be reversed if the correct legal standards were not applied, or it was not supported by substantial evidence. See Johnson v. Bowen, 817 F.2d 983, 986 (2d Cir. 1987) (“Where there is a reasonable basis for doubt whether the ALJ applied correct legal principles, application of the substantial evidence standard to uphold a finding of no disability creates an unacceptable risk that a claimant will be deprived of the right to have her disability determination made according to the correct legal principles.”); Grey v. Heckler, 721 F.2d 41, 46 (2d Cir. 1983); Marcus v. Califano, 615 F.2d 23, 27 (2d Cir. 1979).

         “Substantial evidence” is evidence that amounts to “more than a mere scintilla, ” and has been defined as “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 1427 (1971). Where evidence is deemed susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the Commissioner's conclusion must be upheld. See Rutherford v. Schweiker, 685 F.2d 60, 62 (2d Cir. 1982).

         “To determine on appeal whether the ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence, a reviewing court considers the whole record, examining evidence from both sides, because an analysis of the substantiality of the evidence must also include that which detracts ...


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