United States District Court, W.D. New York
DEBRA L. SWEET, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
DECISION AND ORDER
MICHAEL A. TELESCA, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
by counsel, plaintiff Debra L. Sweet
(“Plaintiff”) 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 (the “Commissioner”
or “Defendant”) denying her application for
supplemental security income (“SSI”). The Court
has jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). Presently before the Court are the
parties' cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings
pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure. For the reasons discussed below, Plaintiff's
motion is granted to the extent that this case is remanded to
the Commissioner for further administrative proceedings
consistent with this Decision and Order, and the
Commissioner's motion is denied.
protectively filed an application for SSI on April 30, 2012,
alleging disability as of December 15, 2007 due to lower back
problems, knee problems, and post-traumatic stress disorder
(“PTSD”). Administrative Transcript
(“T.”) 141-46, 152-56. Plaintiff's
application was initially denied. T. 92-94. At
Plaintiff's request, a hearing was held before
administrative law judge (“ALJ”) Eric Glazer on
January 8, 2014. T. 35-76. On May 5, 2014, the ALJ issued a
decision in which he found that Plaintiff was not disabled as
defined in the Act. T. 17-30. On July 28, 2015, the Appeals
Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, rendering
the ALJ's determination the Commissioner's final
decision. T. 1-5. Plaintiff then timely commenced this
The ALJ's Decision
one of the five-step sequential evaluation, see 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920, the ALJ determined
that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since April 30, 2012, the date of her application.
T. 19. At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered
from the severe impairments of arthritis of the spine and
knees and major depressive disorder and the non-severe
impairments of obesity, PTSD, obsessive-compulsive disorder
(“OCD”), and dissociative disorder. T. 19-20. At
step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled the severity of any listed impairment. T.
20. The ALJ particularly considered Listings 1.02, 1.04, and
12.04 in reaching this determination. T. 20-21.
proceeding to step four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff
retained the RFC to perform medium work as defined in 20
C.F.R. § 416.967(c), with the additional limitation that
she could frequently understand, remember, and carry out
detailed tasks with no fast-paced production work. T. 22. At
step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was capable of
performing her past relevant work as a telemarketer. T. 30.
Accordingly, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled.
Scope of Review
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).
“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) (internal quotation omitted). 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, 417
(2d Cir. 2013). “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).
Plaintiff makes the following arguments in support of her
motion for judgment on the pleadings: (1) the ALJ erred in
failing to acknowledge and evaluate the opinion of Dr. Asra
Rana; (2) the ALJ erred at step two by finding
Plaintiff's PTSD, OCD, and obesity to be non-severe
impairments; (3) the ALJ improperly assessed the opinion of
treating nurse practitioner (“NP”) Susan Gunn;
(4) the ALJ's finding that Plaintiff's work as a
telemarketer constituted past relevant work is unsupported by
substantial evidence, as is his conclusion that Plaintiff was
capable of performing it; and (5) the ALJ's conclusion
that Plaintiff was capable of the full range of medium work
is unsupported by substantial evidence. For the reasons set
forth below, the Court finds that remand of this matter for
further administrative proceedings is necessary.
The ALJ Erred in Failing to Consider Dr. Rana's
10, 2013, Dr. Rana completed an employability assessment,
disability screening, and alcoholism/drug addiction
determination related to Plaintiff. T. 349-51. Dr. Rana
stated that Plaintiff has osteoarthritis and hyperlipidemia.
T. 349. She opined that Plaintiff had moderate limitations in
her abilities to walk, stand, sit, lift, carry, push, pull,
bend, see, hear, speak, use her hands, and climb. T. 350. Dr.
Rana specifically opined that Plaintiff's morbid obesity
and severe osteoarthritis would limit her ability to engage