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Will v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, W.D. New York

February 23, 2018

DEANNA F. WILL, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          DECISION AND ORDER

          HON. MICHAEL A. TELESCA, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         INTRODUCTION

         Deanna f. Will (“Plaintiff”), represented by counsel, brings 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 (“Defendant” or “the Commissioner”), [1] denying her applications for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). The Court has jurisdiction over the matter pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c).

         PROCEDURAL STATUS

         On January 15, 2013, Plaintiff protectively filed an application for SSI, alleging disability beginning January 29, 2012. This claim was denied initially on May 17, 2013. Plaintiff filed a written request for a hearing, which was conducted via videoconference by Administrative Law Judge Jerome Hornblass (“the ALJ”) on November 6, 2013. Plaintiff appeared with her attorney at the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) office in Jamestown, New York, and testified. The ALJ did not call any witnesses. On February 25, 2014, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. (T.17-33).[2] The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on May 20, 2015, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Plaintiff then timely commenced this action.

         THE ALJ'S DECISION

         At step one of the sequential evaluation, the ALJ fund that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 15, 2013, the application date. (T.22). At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: back disorder, asthma, depression, and anxiety disorder.

         At step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or medically equal any listed impairment found in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (the “Listings”). (T.22-23). In making that finding, the ALJ specifically considered Listings 1.04 (disorders of the spine), 3.03 (asthma), and 12.04 (affective disorders). (T.22-24).

         The ALJ then assessed Plaintiff as having the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work as defined in the regulations, except that she was limited to simple tasks that did not require working in environments containing respiratory irritants. (T.24-28).

         At step four, the ALJ found Plaintiff had no past relevant work. (T.28). At step five, the ALJ determined that, pursuant to Medical-Vocational Rule 202.20, Plaintiff could perform jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy. (T.28). Accordingly, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has not been under a disability as defined in the Act during the relevant period.

         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 also Green-Younger v. Barnhart, 335 F.3d 99, 105-06 (2d Cir. 2003). The 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”). “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). The reviewing court nevertheless 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). “The deferential standard of review for substantial evidence does not apply to the Commissioner's conclusions of law.” Byam v. Barnhart, 336 F.3d 172, 179 (2d Cir. 2003) (citing Townley v. Heckler, 748 F.2d 109, 112 (2d Cir. 1984)).

         DISCUSSION

         I. Internal Inconsistency in ALJ's Decision Requires Remand for ...


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