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Hayes v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. New York

June 20, 2018




         Deborah Hayes brings this action pursuant to the Social Security Act (“the Act”) seeking review of the final decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security that denied her application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Act.[1] ECF No. 1. The Court has jurisdiction over this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         Both parties moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). ECF Nos. 10, 12. For the reasons that follow, the Commissioner's motion is GRANTED and Plaintiff's motion is DENIED.


         On June 26, 2014, Hayes protectively applied for DIB with the Social Security Administration (“the SSA”). Tr. 178-79. She alleged disability since October 1, 2010, due to a stroke, Raynaud's syndrome, acclimatization problems, acute sinusitis, lateral epicondylitis, De Quervain's tenosynovitis, a left rotator cuff injury, and arm, hand, and sinus surgeries. Tr. 79, 219-20. Hayes later amended her alleged onset date to September 25, 2013. Tr. 265. On December 29, 2015, Hayes and a vocational expert (“VE”) testified at a hearing via videoconference before Administrative Law Judge Yvette N. Diamond (“the ALJ”). Tr. 14-54. On January 27, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Hayes was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. Tr. 79-89. On April 19, 2017, the Appeals Council denied Hayes's request for review. Tr. 1-4. Thereafter, Hayes commenced this action seeking review of the Commissioner's final decision. ECF No. 1.


         I. District Court Review

         “In reviewing a final decision of the SSA, this 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) (quotation marks omitted); see also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The Act holds that a decision by the Commissioner is “conclusive” if it is supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). “Substantial evidence means more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Moran v. Astrue, 569 F.3d 108, 112 (2d Cir. 2009) (quotation marks omitted). It is not the Court's function to “determine de novo whether [the claimant] is disabled.” Schaal v. Apfel, 134 F.3d 496, 501 (2d Cir. 1998) (quotation marks omitted); see also Wagner v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 906 F.2d 856, 860 (2d Cir. 1990) (holding that review of the Secretary's decision is not de novo and that the Secretary's findings are conclusive if supported by substantial evidence).

         II. Disability Determination

         An ALJ must follow a five-step sequential evaluation to determine whether a claimant is disabled within the meaning of the Act. See Parker v. City of New York, 476 U.S. 467, 470-71 (1986). At step one, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful work activity. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b). If so, the claimant is not disabled. If not, the ALJ proceeds to step two and determines whether the claimant has an impairment, or combination of impairments, that is “severe” within the meaning of the Act, meaning that it imposes significant restrictions on the claimant's ability to perform basic work activities. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). If the claimant does not have a severe impairment or combination of impairments, the analysis concludes with a finding of “not disabled.” If the claimant does, the ALJ continues to step three.

         At step three, the ALJ examines whether a claimant's impairment meets or medically equals the criteria of a listed impairment in Appendix 1 of Subpart P of Regulation No. 4 (the “Listings”). 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d). If the impairment meets or medically equals the criteria of a Listing and meets the durational requirement (20 C.F.R. § 404.1509), the claimant is disabled. If not, the ALJ determines the claimant's residual functional capacity (“RFC”), which is the ability to perform physical or mental work activities on a sustained basis, notwithstanding limitations for the collective impairments. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e)-(f).

         The ALJ then proceeds to step four and determines whether the claimant's RFC permits him or her to perform the requirements of his or her past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f). If the claimant can perform such requirements, then he or she is not disabled. If he or she cannot, the analysis proceeds to the fifth and final step, wherein the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that the claimant is not disabled. To do so, the Commissioner must present evidence to demonstrate that the claimant “retains a residual functional capacity to perform alternative substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy” in light of his or her age, education, and work experience. See Rosa v. Callahan, 168 F.3d 72, 77 (2d Cir. 1999) (quotation marks omitted); see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1560(c).


         I. The ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ's decision analyzed Hayes's claim for benefits under the process described above. At step one, the ALJ found that Hayes had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the amended alleged onset date of September 25, 2013 through her date last insured of December 31, 2013. Tr. 81. At step two, the ALJ found that Hayes has the following severe impairments: degenerative joint disease of the left shoulder, bilateral De Quervain's tendonitis, chronic sinusitis, patent foramen ovale, and residual effects of a transient ischemic attack. Tr. 81-83. At step three, the ALJ found that these impairments, alone or in combination, did not meet or medically equal any Listings impairment. Tr. 83-84.

         Next, the ALJ determined that Hayes retains the RFC to perform light work[2] with additional limitations. Tr. 84-87. Specifically, the ALJ found that Hayes can lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; can stand, walk, and sit for six hours in an eight-hour workday; can occasionally push and pull with the upper extremities; can frequently reach in most directions but cannot reach overhead; can frequently handle and occasionally finger with the right upper extremely and can occasionally handle and finger with the left upper extremity; and cannot have concentrated exposure to respiratory irritants. Tr. 84. At step four, the ALJ relied on the VE's testimony and found that Hayes cannot perform her past relevant work. Tr. 88. At step five, the ALJ relied on the VE's testimony and found that Hayes can adjust to other work that exists in significant No. in the national economy given her RFC, age, education, and work experience. Tr. 88-89. Specifically, the VE testified that Hayes can work as a furniture rental clerk, children's attendant, and fruit distributor. Tr. 89. Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Hayes was not “disabled” under the Act. Id.

         II. Analysis

         Hayes contends that remand is required because the ALJ failed to consider all of her impairments at step two of the disability analysis and improperly weighed the medical opinions. ECF No. 10-1 at ...

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