Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Hall v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. New York

February 27, 2018

TIRZAH J. HALL, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1] Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          LEWIS L. SCHWARTZ, PLLC Attorneys for Plaintiff LEWIS L. SCHWARTZ, of Counsel

          JAMES P. KENNEDY ACTING UNITED STATES ATTORNEY Attorney for Defendant and SUSAN JANE REISS Special Assistant United States Attorney, of Counsel




         On April 14, 2016, the parties to this action consented pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), to proceed before the undersigned. (Dkt. 14). The matter is presently before the court on motions for judgment on the pleadings filed by Plaintiff on January 29, 2016 (Dkt. 10), and by Defendant on April 28, 2016 (Dkt. 15).


         Plaintiff Tirzah J. Hall (“Plaintiff” or “Hall”), born April 16, 1969, AR at 36, [2] is a high-school graduate with associate degrees in accounting and criminal justice, AR at 44, and has been diagnosed with post traumatic degenerative arthritis of her left ankle, for which Plaintiff has undergone four surgeries, including November 10, 2006, February 7, 2007, April 15, 2009, and November 25, 2013. Plaintiff brings this action under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (“the Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), seeking judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security's final decision denying Plaintiff's applications for social security disability benefits filed with the Social Security Administration (“SSA”), on November 1, 2012, for Title II Disability Insurance benefits (“DIB”), and on November 2, 2012, for Title XVI Supplemental Security Insurance benefits (“SSI”) (together, “disability benefits”).

         In applying for disability benefits, Plaintiff alleges she became disabled on May 1, 2009, based on physical problems with her left heel and right leg, and a broken left ankle with history of multiple surgeries. AR at 123-24, 164, 175. Plaintiff's applications initially were denied January 17, 2013. At an administrative hearing held April 3, 2014, before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Bruce R. Mazzarella, Plaintiff, represented by Lewis L. Schwartz, Esq. (“Schwartz”), appeared and testified. A vocational expert (“VE”) Rachel A. Duchon (“Duchon”), also appeared but did not testify. In the ALJ's decision, issued May, 20, 2014, Plaintiff was found not disabled under the Act during the relevant period. The ALJ's decision became the final decision after it was affirmed by the Appeals Council on June 19, 2015. This action followed on July 13, 2015

         On January 29, 2016, Plaintiff filed her motion for judgment on the pleadings (Dkt. 10) (“Plaintiff's Motion”), attaching the Memorandum of Law in Support of Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (Dkt. 10-1) (“Plaintiff's Memorandum”).[3] On April 28, 2016, Defendant filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings (Dkt. 15-1) (“Defendant's Motion”), attaching Commissioner's Brief in Support of Her Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings and in Response to Plaintiff's Brief Pursuant to Local Standing Order on Social Security Cases (Dkt. 15-1) (“Defendant's Memorandum”). On May 24, 2016, Plaintiff filed in further support of judgment on the pleadings Plaintiff's Reply (Dkt. 19) (“Plaintiff's Reply”). Oral argument was deemed unnecessary.

         Based on the following, Plaintiff's Motion is DENIED; Defendant's Motion is GRANTED.


          1. Standard and Scope of Judicial Review

         A claimant is “disabled” within the meaning of the Act and entitled to disability benefits when she is unable “to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which . . . has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 month.” 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i)(1); 1382c(a)(3)(A). A district court may set aside the Commissioner's determination that a claimant is not disabled 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), 1383(c)(3); Green-Younger v. Barnhart, 335 F.3d 99, 105-06 (2d Cir. 2003). In reviewing a final decision of the SSA, a district court “is limited to determining whether the SSA's conclusions were supported by substantial evidence in the record and were based on a correct legal standard.” Talavera v. Astrue, 697 F.3d 145, 151 (2d Cir. 2012) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). “Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. It is not, however, the district court's function to make a de novo determination as to whether the claimant is disabled; rather, “the reviewing court is required to examine the entire record, including contradictory evidence and evidence from which conflicting inferences can be drawn” to determine whether the SSA's findings are supported by substantial evidence. Id. “Congress has instructed . . . that the factual findings of the Secretary, [4] if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive.” Rutherford v. Schweiker, 685 F.2d60, 62 (2d Cir. 1982).

         2. Disability Determination

         The applicable regulations set forth a five-step analysis the Commissioner must follow in determining eligibility for disability benefits. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520 and 416.920. See Bapp v. Bowen, 802 F.2d 601, 604 (2d Cir. 1986); Berry v. Schweiker, 675 F.2d 464 (2d Cir. 1982). The first step is to determine whether the applicant is engaged in substantial gainful activity during the period for which the benefits are claimed. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b) and 416.920(b). If the claimant is engaged in such activity, the inquiry ceases and the claimant is not eligible for disability benefits. Id. Next to be determined is whether the applicant has a severe impairment which significantly limits the physical or mental ability to do basic work activities, as defined in the relevant regulations. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c). Absent such an impairment, the applicant is not eligible for disability benefits. Id. Third, if there is an impairment and the impairment, or its equivalent, is listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 of the regulations (“Appendix 1” or “the Listings”), and meets the duration requirement, [5] there is a presumption of inability to perform substantial gainful activity, and the claimant is deemed disabled, regardless of age, education, or work experience. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A) and 1382a(c)(3)(A); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d) and 416.920(d). As a fourth step, however, if the impairment or its equivalent is not listed in Appendix 1, the Commissioner must then consider the applicant's “residual functional capacity, ” which is the ability to perform physical or mental work activities on a sustained basis, notwithstanding the limitations posed by the applicant's collective impairments, see 20 C.F.R. 404.1520(e)-(f), and 416.920(e)-(f), and the demands of any past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e) and 416.920(e). If the applicant remains capable of performing past relevant work, disability benefits will be denied, id., but if the applicant is unable to perform past relevant work, the Commissioner, at the fifth step, must consider whether, given the applicant's age, education, and past work experience, the applicant “retains a residual functional capacity to perform alternative substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy.” Rosa v. Callahan, 168 F.3d 72, 77 (2d Cir. 1999) (quotation marks and citation omitted); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1560(c) and 416.960(c). The burden of proof is on the applicant for the first four steps, with the Commissioner bearing the burden of proof on the final step. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4) and 416.920(a)(4); Burgess v. Astrue, 537 F.3d 117, 128 (2d Cir. 2008).

         In the instant case, the ALJ found Plaintiff meets the Act's insured status requirement through September 30, 2012, AR at 22, Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 1, 2009, her alleged disability onset date, id., Plaintiff suffers from the severe impairment of chronic left ankle pain status post-surgery, and a non-severe impairment of obesity, id. at 22-23, but that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments meeting or medically equal to the severity of any listed impairment in Appendix 1, id. at 23, and that Plaintiff retains the residual functional capacity to perform the full range of sedentary work, including Plaintiff's past relevant work. Id. at 23-26. Accordingly, the ALJ determined Plaintiff is not disabled as defined under the Act. Id. at 26.

         Plaintiff raises several challenges to the ALJ's determination, including that Plaintiff meets the criteria for disability under Listing 1.03 pertaining to reconstructive surgery of a weight-bearing joint, Plaintiff's Memorandum at 11-14, the ALJ erred in failing to provide specific and detailed findings regarding the physical demands of Plaintiff's past relevant work, id. at 14-16, and the ALJ erred in selectively rejecting a portion of Plaintiff's treating orthopedic surgeon's opinion. Id. at 17-20. Plaintiff maintains these errors require remand either for calculation of benefits or for a new hearing to rectify the asserted legal errors. Id. at 21-22. Defendant, in contrast, argues the ALJ properly determined Plaintiff's ankle injury does not meet the criteria for disability under Listing 1.03, Defendant's Memorandum at 9-13, and substantial evidence supports the ALJ's determination that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work, id. at 13-15, as well as the residual functional capacity to perform her past relevant work as an Operations Clerk and Lockbox Clerk. Id. at 15-17. In further support of her motion for judgment on the pleadings, Plaintiff argues the ALJ failed to properly consider Listing 1.03 with regard to Plaintiff's left ankle injury, Plaintiff's Reply at 4-6, failed to provide specific findings as to the physical demands of Plaintiff's past relevant work, id. at 6-8, and erred by selectively rejecting a portion of Plaintiff's treating orthopedic surgeon's opinion. Id. at 8-9. Because no challenge is raised to the first and second steps of the five-part analysis, the court does not address them.

         A. Third Step

         Plaintiff's left ankle impairment is assessed under musculo-skeletal impairments in the Listing of Impairments. The ALJ discussed whether Plaintiff's ankle impairment satisfies Listing ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.