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Cubiotti v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. New York

April 5, 2018

DEANNA MARIE CUBIOTTI, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner OF Social Security[1], Defendant.

          DECISION AND ORDER

          MICHAEL A. TELESCA, United States District Judge

         INTRODUCTION

         Deanna Marie Cubiotti (“Plaintiff”), represented by counsel, brings this action under 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 the matter pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c). Presently before the Court are the parties' competing motions for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's motion is denied and Defendant's motion is granted.

         PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On February 25, 2013, Plaintiff protectively filed for SSI, alleging disability beginning February 9, 2012. (Administrative Transcript (“T.”) 280). The claim was initially denied on June 10, 2013, and Plaintiff timely requested a hearing. (T. 231-33). A hearing was conducted on February 25, 2014, in Rochester, New York by administrative law judge (“ALJ”) John P. Costello. (T. 170-215). Plaintiff appeared with her attorney and testified. An impartial vocational expert (“VE”) also testified.

         The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on March 27, 2014 (T. 32-48). Plaintiff timely requested review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals' Council. (T. 12). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on September 10, 2014, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (T. 1-3). Plaintiff instituted a civil action in this Court, and on July 15, 2015, this Court remanded the claim for further administrative proceedings. See Cubiotti v. Colvin, No. 14-cv-6637, Docket No. 10.

         On remand, the Appeals Council vacated the ALJ's decision and remanded the matter for further consideration and development. T. 1107-08. On April 18, 2016, Plaintiff appeared with her attorney at a second hearing and testified again before ALJ Costello. Vocational expert Carol McManus and medical expert Chukwuemeka K. Efobi, M.D. also testified. T. 1032-82. On May 9, 2016, ALJ Costello issued an unfavorable decision. T. 1009-30. This action followed.

         THE ALJ'S DECISION

         The ALJ applied the five-step sequential evaluation promulgated by the Commissioner for adjudicating disability claims. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a). Additionally, because there was medical evidence of drug addiction or alcoholism, the ALJ performed the secondary analysis required by 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(c). Pursuant to this secondary analysis, even if a claimant qualifies for disability benefits under the five-step analysis, the claimant “shall not be considered disabled . . . if alcoholism or drug addiction would . . . be a contributing factor material to the Commissioner's determination that the individual is disabled”. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(c); see also 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.935(a), 404.1535(a). In determining whether a claimant's alcohol or drug abuse is a “material” factor, an ALJ applies the following process codified at 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.935, 404.1535(b):

(1) The key factor we will examine in determining whether drug addiction or alcoholism is a contributing factor material to the determination of disability is whether we would still find you disabled if you stopped using drugs or alcohol.
(2) In making this determination, we will evaluate which of your current physical and mental limitations, upon which we based our current disability determination, would remain if you stopped using drugs or alcohol and then determine whether any or all of your remaining limitations would be disabling.
(I) If we determine that your remaining limitations would not be disabling, we will find that your drug addiction or alcoholism is a contributing factor material to the determination of disability.
(ii) If we determine that your remaining limitations are disabling, you are disabled independent of your drug addiction or alcoholism and we will find that your drug addiction or alcoholism is not a contributing factor material to the determination of disability.

20 C.F.R. §§ 416.935(b), 404.1535(b). “The claimant bears the burden of proving that drug or alcohol addiction was not a contributing factor material to the disability determination.” Newsome v. Astrue,817 F.Supp.2d 111, 126-27 (E.D.N.Y. 2011) (citing White v. ...


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