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K.K. v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, N.D. New York

June 21, 2018

K. K., Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          SEGAR, SCIORTIN LAW FIRM Counsel for Plaintiff

          U.S. SOCIAL SECURITY ADMIN. OFFICE OF REG'L GEN. COUNSEL - REGION II Counsel for Defendant

          ALECIA ELSTON, ESQ., DAVID B. MYERS, ESQ.

          MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

          William B. Mitchell Carter, U.S. Magistrate Judge.

         This matter was referred to me, for all proceedings and entry of a final judgment, pursuant to the Social Security Pilot Program, N.D.N.Y. General Order No. 18, and in accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), Fed.R.Civ.P. 73, N.D.N.Y. Local Rule 73.1 and the consent of the parties. (Dkt. Nos. 4, 15.).

         Currently before the Court, in this Social Security action filed by K. K. (“Plaintiff”) against the Commissioner of Social Security (“Defendant” or “the Commissioner”) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), are the parties' cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings. (Dkt. Nos. 9, 12.) For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's motion is denied and Defendant's motion is granted.

         I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         Plaintiff was born in 1966. (T. 87.) She completed two years of college. (T. 238.) Generally, Plaintiff's alleged disability consists of low back pain, damaged nerves, fractured right hip, left shoulder pain, post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (“ADHD”), anxiety, memory loss, and asthma. (T. 88.) Her alleged disability onset date is February 16, 2012. (T. 87.) Her date last insured is September 30, 2015. (Id.) She previously worked as a coder, in food service, and in retail. (T. 239.)

         B. Procedural History

         On June 26, 2013, Plaintiff applied for a period of Disability Insurance Benefits (“SSD”) under Title II of the Social Security Act. (T. 87.) Plaintiff's application was initially denied, after which she timely requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“the ALJ”). On March 24, 2015 and September 8, 2015, Plaintiff appeared before the ALJ, John P. Ramos. (T. 25-62, 63-86.) On September 18, 2015, ALJ Ramos issued a written decision finding Plaintiff not disabled under the Social Security Act. (T. 7-24.) On February 15, 2017, the Appeals Council (“AC”) denied Plaintiff's request for review, rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (T. 1-4.) Thereafter, Plaintiff timely sought judicial review in this Court.

         C. The ALJ's Decision

         Generally, in his decision, the ALJ made the following five findings of fact and conclusions of law. (T. 12-19.) First, the ALJ found Plaintiff met the insured status requirements through September 30, 2015 and Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 16, 2012. (T. 12.) Second, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the severe impairments of degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, status post neck surgery, asthma, depressive disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. (Id.) Third, the ALJ found Plaintiff did not have an impairment that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments located in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix. 1. (T. 13.) Fourth, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform:

sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. [§] 404.1567(a)[1] and she is able to sit, stand or walk for up to one hour at a time. She can only occasionally reach overhead with either upper extremity but otherwise has no reaching limitation. She should avoid exposure to concentrated respiratory irritants or extremes of temperature and humidity. She should be able to change positions at will, but she does not need to leave the work area to do so. [Plaintiff] retains the ability to understand and follow simple instructions and directions; perform simple tasks with supervision and independently; maintain attention/concentration for simple tasks; regularly attend to a routine and maintain a schedule; relate to and interact with others to the extent necessary to carry out simple tasks, but she should avoid work requiring more complex interaction or joint efforts with other coworkers to achieve work goals. [Plaintiff] can handle reasonable levels of simple, work-related stress, in that she can make decisions directly related to the performance of simple work and handle usual workplace changes and interactions associated with simple work.

         (T. 15.) Fifth, the ALJ determined Plaintiff was incapable of performing her past relevant work; however, there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy Plaintiff could perform. (T. 18-19.)

         II. THE PARTIES' BRIEFINGS ON PLAINTIFF'S MOTION

         A. Plaintiff's Arguments

         Plaintiff makes three arguments in support of her motion for judgment on the pleadings. First, Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred in affording more weight to a medical expert's opinion over treating source opinions. (Dkt. No. 9 at 8-12 [Pl.'s Mem. of Law].) Second, Plaintiff argues the ALJ failed to properly evaluate and assess Plaintiff's credibility. (Id. at 12-17.) Third, and lastly, Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred in failing to credit an answer by the vocational expert that resulted in no work Plaintiff could perform. (Id. at 17-18.)

         B. Defendant's Arguments

         In response, Defendant makes three arguments. First, Defendant argues substantial evidence supports the ALJ's RFC finding. (Dkt. No. 12 at 9-20 [Def.'s Mem. of Law].) Second, Defendant argues the ALJ properly considered Plaintiff's credibility in assessing her RFC. (Id. at 20-23.) Third, and lastly, Defendant argues the ALJ properly denied Plaintiff's claim at step five. (Id. at 24-25.)

         III. RELEVANT LEGAL STANDARD

         A. ...


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