United States District Court, W.D. New York
JENNINE S. COOK Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL,  Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
OFFICES OF CLARK & JORDAN-PUGH Attorneys for Plaintiff
AMANDA JORDAN-PUGH, of Counsel
P. KENNEDY ACTING UNITED STATES ATTORNEY Attorney for
Defendant EMILY FISHMAN Assistant United States Attorney, of
Counsel Federal Centre
STEPHEN P. CONTE Regional Chief Counsel United States Social
Security Administration Office of the General Counsel, of
DECISION AND ORDER
G. FOSCHIO, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
22, 2016, the parties consented, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
636(c), to proceed before the undersigned. (Dkt. No. 11). The
court has jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). The matter is presently before the court on
the parties' cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings
pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure, filed by Plaintiff on February 15, 2016 (Dkt. 8),
and by Defendant on April 14, 2016 (Dkt. 9). For the reasons
discussed below, Plaintiff's motion is denied and the
Commissioner's motion is granted.
Jennine Cook (“Plaintiff”), brings this action
pursuant to the Social Security Act (“the Act”),
seeking review of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security
(“the Commissioner” or “Defendant”)
decision denying her application for disability benefits for
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) benefits
under Title II of the Act, and Social Security Disability
Insurance (“SSDI”) benefits under Title XVI of
the Act, together (“disability benefits”).
Plaintiff, born on November 6, 1973 (R. 149), alleges that
she became disabled on July 17, 2012, when she stopped
working as a result of spinal and bilateral knee impairments.
application for disability benefits was initially denied by
Defendant on December 14, 2012 (R. 88), and, pursuant to
Plaintiff's request, a hearing was held before
Administrative Law Judge Bruce R. Mazzarella (“Judge
Mazzarella” or “the ALJ”) on February 20,
2014, in Buffalo, New York, where Plaintiff, represented by
Courtney Quinn, Esq. (“Quinn”) appeared and
testified. (R. -78). Vocational expert (“VE”) Jay
Steinbrenner also appeared and testified. (R. 78-86). The
ALJ's decision denying Plaintiff's claim was rendered
on April 9, 2014. (R. 24-33). Plaintiff requested review by
the Appeals Council, and on July 1, 2015, the ALJ's
decision became Defendant's final decision when the
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review.
(R. 1-4). This action followed on August 28, 2015, with
Plaintiff alleging that the ALJ erred by failing to find her
disabled. (Dkt. No. 1).
February 15, 2016, Plaintiff filed a motion for judgment on
the pleadings (“Plaintiff's motion”),
accompanied by a memorandum of law (Dkt. No. 8)
(“Plaintiff's Memorandum”). Defendant filed,
on April 14, 2016, Defendant's motion for judgment on the
pleadings (“Defendant's motion”), accompanied
by a memorandum of law (Dkt. No. 9) (“Defendant's
Memorandum”). Plaintiff filed a reply to
Defendant's motion on the pleadings on May 5, 2016
(“Plaintiff's Reply Memorandum”) (Dkt. No.
10). Oral argument was deemed unnecessary.
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 the
decision is based on legal error. See 42 U.S.C.
405(g); 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.'” Shaw v.
Chater, 221 F.3d 126, 131 (2d Cir. 2000).
Standard and Scope of Judicial Review
standard of review for courts reviewing administrative
findings regarding disability benefits, 42 U.S.C.
§§ 401-34 and 1381-85, is whether the
administrative law judge's findings are supported by
substantial evidence. Richardson v. Perales, 402
U.S. 389, 401 (1971). Substantial evidence requires enough
evidence that a reasonable person would "accept as
adequate to support a conclusion." Consolidated
Edison Co. v. N.L.R.B., 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938). When
evaluating a claim, the Commissioner must consider
"objective medical facts, diagnoses or medical opinions
based on these facts, subjective evidence of pain or
disability (testified to by the claimant and others), and . .
. educational background, age and work experience."
Dumas v. Schweiker, 712 F.2d 1545, 1550 (2d Cir.
1983) (quoting Miles v. Harris, 645 F.2d 122, 124
(2d Cir. 1981)). If the opinion of the treating physician is
supported by medically acceptable techniques and results from
frequent examinations, and the opinion supports the
administrative record, the treating physician's opinion
will be given controlling weight. Schisler v.
Sullivan, 3 F.3d 563, 567 (2d Cir. 1993); 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1527(d); 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(d). The
Commissioner's final determination will be affirmed,
absent legal error, if it is supported by substantial
evidence. Dumas, 712 F.2d at 1550; 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). "Congress has
instructed . . . that the factual findings of the Secretary,
supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive."
Rutherford v. Schweiker, 685 F.2d 60, 62 (2d Cir.
applicable regulations set forth a five-step analysis the
Commissioner must follow in determining eligibility for
disability insurance 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 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. The next step is to determine whether the
applicant has a severe impairment which significantly limits
the physical or mental ability to do basic work activities as
defined in the applicable regulations. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(c) and 416.920(c). Absent an impairment, the
applicant is not eligible for disability benefits.
Id. Third, if there is an impairment and the
impairment, or an equivalent, is listed in Appendix 1 of the
regulations and meets the duration requirement, the
individual is deemed disabled, regardless of the
applicant's age, education or work experience, 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(d) and 416.920(d), as, in such a case,
there is a presumption the applicant with such an impairment
is unable to perform substantial gainful
activity. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A) and
1382(c)(a)(3)(A); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520 and
416.920. See also Cosme v. Bowen, 1986 WL 12118, at
* 2 (S.D.N.Y. 1986); Clemente v. Bowen, 646 F.Supp.
1265, 1270 (S.D.N.Y. 1986).
as a fourth step, if the impairment or its equivalent is not
listed in Appendix 1, the Commissioner must then consider the
applicant's "residual functional capacity" and
the demands of any past work. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(e), 416.920(e). If the applicant can still perform
work he or she has done in the past, the applicant will be
denied disability benefits. Id. Finally, if the
applicant is unable to perform any past work, the
Commissioner will consider the individual's
"residual functional capacity, " age, education and
past work experience in order to determine whether the
applicant can perform any alternative employment. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(f), 416.920(f). See also
Berry, 675 F.2d at 467 (where impairment(s) are not
among those listed, claimant must show that he is without
"the residual functional capacity to perform [her] past
work"). If the Commissioner finds that the applicant
cannot perform any other work, the applicant is considered
disabled and eligible for disability ...