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Callahan v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. New York

April 4, 2018

CRYSTAL CALLAHAN, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          DECISION AND ORDER

          HON. MICHAEL A. TELESCA JUDGE

         I. Introduction

         Represented by counsel, Crystal Callahan (“Plaintiff”) instituted this action pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act (“the Act”), seeking review of the final decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security (“the Commissioner”) denying her applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). The Court has jurisdiction over the matter pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c).

         II. Procedural Status

         On April 11, 2012, Plaintiff filed a Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits, alleging disability beginning October 25, 2010. The claim was denied initially on August 23, 2012. Plaintiff filed a written request for hearing on October 22, 2012. On July 11, 2013, Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Joseph L. Brinkley held a hearing via videoconference. Plaintiff appeared with her attorney in Rochester, New York, and testified, as did impartial vocational expert (“VE”) Stephanie R. Archer. (T.41-76).[1] On August 23, 2013, ALJ Brinkley issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled. (T.18-35). This decision became the final decision of the Commissioner on August 27, 2014, when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review.

         Plaintiff filed an action in this Court, and on September 29, 2015, the undersigned remanded the claim to the Commissioner for further proceedings pursuant to the fourth sentence of section 205(g) of the Act. (T.671-88). On June 15, 2016, Plaintiff appeared with her attorney for a hearing before ALJ Connor O'Brien in Rochester, New York. (T.574-636). On February 16, 2017, ALJ O'Brien issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. (T.544-72). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making ALJ O'Brien's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Plaintiff then timely commenced this action.

         For the reasons discussed below, the Commissioner's decision is reversed, and the matter is remanded for calculation and payment of benefits.

         III. The ALJ's Decision

         At the outset of the decision, the ALJ noted that pursuant to the Court's remand order, the Appeals Council had issued the following instructions: (1) re-evaluate the treating source opinions of Dr. Ronald Spurling and Dr. Donovan Holder in light of the case law and regulatory factors; and (2) re-assess Plaintiff's mental and physical residual functional capacity as necessary in light of the re-evaluations of the treating source opinions.

         At step one of the sequential evaluation, the ALJ found that Plaintiff last met the Act's insured status requirements on March 31, 2013, and did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the period from her the alleged onset date of October 25, 2010, through her date last insured.

         At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the following “severe” impairments: lumbar degenerative disc disease, obesity, fibromyalgia, affective disorder, and anxiety disorder. The ALJ found that Plaintiff's gastroesophageal reflux disease, sleep apnea, polycystic ovary disease, hypertension, and migraine headaches, when properly treated, resulted in only minimal, if any, limitations on her ability to perform work-related activities.

         At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's impairments do not meet or medically equal a listed impairment. The ALJ gave particular consideration to Listings 1.04A, 1.04B, 1.04C, 12.04, and 12.06.

         Prior to proceeding to step four, the ALJ assessed Plaintiff as having the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b), except that she can lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; can stand and/or walk for 4 hours in an 8-hour workday; can sit for 6 hours in an 8-hour workday; needs a sit/stand opinion that allows her to change position every 60 minutes for up to 5 minutes; cannot climb ropes, ladders, or scaffolds; cannot balance on narrow, slippery or moving surfaces; cannot stoop to the floor, kneel, or crawl; occasionally needs a cane when walking; can occasionally crouch and climb stairs; cannot work overhead; can tolerate occasional exposure to extreme heat, extreme cold, wetness, humidity, and airborne irritants; must avoid hazards such as open water and unprotected heights; can occasionally drive; requires up to 3 additional, short, less than 5-minute unscheduled breaks beyond normally scheduled breaks; can adjust to occasional changes in the work setting; cannot interact with the public; cannot perform teamwork; and can work to meet daily goals but cannot maintain an hourly, machine-driven, assembly-line production rate.

         At step four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has past relevant work as a receptionist (Dictionary of Occupational Titles (“DOT”) 237.367-038), which the VE testified was sedentary and semiskilled work; as a mental retardation aide (DOT 355.377-018), which the VE testified was medium and skilled work; and as an EKG technician (DOT 078.362-018), which the VE testified was light and semiskilled work. The VE testified that a limitation precluding Plaintiff from any interaction with the public would ...


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