United States District Court, W.D. New York
TIFFANY R. PORTER, Plaintiff
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
the Plaintiff: Tiffany R. Porter, pro se
the Defendant: Sixtina Fernandez Social Security
Administration Office of General Counsel Kathryn L. Smith,
A.U.S.A. Office of the United States Attorney for the Western
District of New York
DECISION AND ORDER
CHARLES J. SIRAGUSA UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
an action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to
review the final determination of the Commissioner of Social
Security (“Commissioner” or
“Defendant”), which denied the application of
Tiffany Porter (“Plaintiff”) for Social Security
Disability Insurance Benefits (“SSDI”). Now
before the Court is Defendant's motion (Docket No. [#10])
for judgment on the pleadings. The application is granted.
reader is presumed to be familiar with the facts and
procedural history of this action, as summarized in
Defendant's Memorandum of Law (Docket No. [#10-1]). The
Administrative Record is exceptionally lengthy, comprising
1507 pages. This is due to the fact that this action dates
back to October 26, 2007, when Plaintiff first applied for
SSDI benefits. (T. 120-124).
purposes of resolving the pending application, it is
sufficient to note the following facts. Plaintiff, who was
born in 1983, applied for SSDI benefits, claiming to have
become disabled on July 9, 2005 (T. 122), due to
“depression, arthritis in foot, knees, lower back,
overweight, anemia.” (T. 156). Plaintiff's
last-insured date was December 31, 2010. (T. 422).
Plaintiff's claim was denied initially, and on September
1, 2009, following a hearing, an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) issued a decision denying the claim (T.
14-27), after which the Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review. (T. 1-6). Plaintiff filed
an action in this Court for a review of the
Commissioner's decision, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
405(g) (No. 11-CV-6280 CJS), and on April 2, 2012, this Court
issued a stipulated Order remanding this action to the
Commissioner for, inter alia, development of the
record and a new hearing, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
405(g), sentence four. (T. 520-521).
February 11, 2013 and April 16, 2013, a new hearing was
conducted before an ALJ (T. 487-498, 419-486), and on July
18, 2013, the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff's
application for SSDI benefits. (T. 527-553). On August 16,
2013, Plaintiff filed written objections to the ALJ's
decision. (T. 556). On December 8, 2014, the Appeals Council
remanded the matter to a new ALJ for clarification of several
points in the ALJ's decision, and for consideration of
additional evidence that had been submitted to the Appeals
Council. (T. 556-557).
12, 2015, a hearing was conducted before a new ALJ (T.
388-418), and on September 8, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision
denying Plaintiff's claim. (T. 361-377). That is, the ALJ
found that Plaintiff was not disabled at any time between the
alleged onset date, July 9, 2005, and her last-insured date,
December 31, 2010. (T. 361-362). The ALJ found that Plaintiff
had a variety of severe impairments (T. 363), but that she
nevertheless had the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform less than a full range of
sedentary work. (T. 366). In explaining that RFC
determination, the ALJ indicated that he gave only limited
weight to an opinion by Plaintiff's treating physician,
Dr. Wadsworth, dated June 15, 2009, because it was
inconsistent with other medical evidence of record. (T.
368-370). The ALJ also noted that Plaintiff had, in several
instances, not followed through with treatment
recommendations by her doctors.
other hand, the ALJ gave significant weight to a later
opinion from Dr. Wadsworth, dated July 17, 2012, which
indicated that Plaintiff had far greater abilities than were
reported in Wadsworth's first report. (T. 370). In that
regard, the ALJ found that Wadsworth's second report was
more consistent with the medical record as a whole. (T. 370).
went on to note that Dr. Wadsworth had later submitted two
additional reports, dated November 6, 2012, and April 20,
2015, both of which the ALJ gave only little weight. (T.
371-372). In that regard, Dr. Wadsworth had indicated, on the
first of these reports, that he was not trained to assess
disability, and that he was merely reporting what the
Plaintiff told him. (T. 926). In the second report, Wadsworth
indicated that Plaintiff's ability to stand, walk or sit
was essentially non-existent, that she would need to take
multiple “20 minute” breaks per hour, and that
with regard to Plaintiff's ability to pay attention, she
would be off task “more than 20%.” (T. 973-974).
It should be noted that these reports were purportedly
assessing Plaintiff's condition as it existed long after
her last-insured date.
also discussed reports from a consulting physician and
psychologist, respectively, indicating that Plaintiff's
impairments were less-than-disabling. (T. 372). The ALJ gave
those reports “some weight” and
“significant weight, ” respectively. (T. 372).
The ALJ also gave significant weight to opinions submitted by
Plaintiff's treating License Clinical Social Worker, even
though she was “not considered to be an acceptable
medical source.” (T. 373). Considering the medical
evidence as a whole, the ALJ found that it showed
Plaintiff's impairments were not as severe as she
maintained. The ALJ further discussed Plaintiff's
treatment history and her daily activities, and found that
they did not support Plaintiff's claim of disability. (T.
374-375). Finally, the ALJ found that despite Plaintiff's
limitations, she retained the ability to perform work, such
as “addresser” and “table worker.”
October 14, 2015, Plaintiff filed objections with the Appeals
Council. (T. 356). In that regard, Plaintiff filed the
objections pro se, though she had been represented
by an attorney up until that point. Plaintiff raised two
objections: First, that the ALJ had incorrectly stated that
she had not been taking medications for depression; and
second, that the “medical records indicate[d] that [she
was] disabled.” (T. 356). With regard to the first
objection, Plaintiff is apparently referring to the following
statement in the ALJ's decision: “While the
claimant was reportedly motivated in treatment, she refused
to take medication because of anxiety about taking pills of
any kind.” (T. 373). The ALJ attributed this statement
to Plaintiff's treating social worker, Debra Greenfield,
LCSW. (T. 373) (citing Ex. 34F). And in fact, Greenfield
indicated, in a report dated May 22, 2013, that Plaintiff was
resistant to taking any kind of medication: “She
continues to be resistant to taking any medication as she has
anxiety about taking pills of any kind.” (T. 954). In
any event, on July 12, 2016, the Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's objections. The Appeals Council noted, for