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Clark v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. New York

June 21, 2018

KIMBERLY J. CLARK, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY BERRYHILL Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          LAW OFFICES OF STEVEN R. DOLSON STEVEN R. DOLSON, ESQ. Counsel for Plaintiff.

          SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION JUNE L. BYUN, ESQ. OFFICE OF GENERAL COUNSEL-REGION II Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Counsel for Defendant.

          DECISION AND ORDER

          GLENN T. SUDDABY, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Currently before the Court, in this action filed by Kimberly J. Clark (“Plaintiff”) against the Commissioner of Social Security (“Defendant”) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), are Plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings and Defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings. (Dkt. Nos. 9, 12.) For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings is denied, and Defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings is granted. The Commissioner's decision denying Plaintiff's disability benefits is affirmed, and Plaintiff's Complaint is dismissed.

         I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         Plaintiff was born in 1975, making her 37 years old at the alleged onset date, 38 years old at the application filing date, and 40 years old at the date of the ALJ's decision. Plaintiff reported obtaining a GED. The vocational expert found that Plaintiff had past work as a disability aide, home health aide, and pharmacy technician. In her application, Plaintiff alleged disability due to hypertension, bipolar disorder, depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, Crohn's disease, migraines, asthma, and a right arm deformity.

         B. Procedural History

         Plaintiff applied for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income on January 28, 2014, alleging disability beginning October 10, 2012. Plaintiff's applications were initially denied on June 4, 2014, after which she timely requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). Plaintiff appeared at a video hearing before ALJ Julia D. Gibbs on October 29, 2015. On December 17, 2015, the ALJ issued a written decision finding Plaintiff was not disabled under the Social Security Act. (T. 21-26.)[1] On April 27, 2017, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (T. 1-3.)

         C. The ALJ's Decision

         Generally, in her decision, the ALJ made the following seven findings of fact and conclusions of law. (T. 21-26.) First, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was insured for benefits under Title II until March 31, 2015. (T. 21.) Second, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her application filing date. (Id.) Third, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's right elbow injury status post surgery, degenerative disc disease, sinusitis, and migraines (controlled with medication) are severe impairments; however, the ALJ found that her bipolar disorder is not a severe impairment. (T. 21-22.) Fourth, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's severe impairments do not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, App. 1 (the “Listings”). (T. 22.) Fifth, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform

light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except she is limited to unskilled work and cannot rotate her right arm more than 90 degrees. She has no limitation on fingering. There can be no excessive exposure to environmental irritants and no rapid rotation of the neck.[2]

(T. 22.) Sixth, the ALJ found that Plaintiff is unable to perform her past work. (T. 25.) Seventh, and finally, the ALJ found that Plaintiff remains able to perform a significant number of other jobs in the national economy including as a usher, ticket taker, counter clerk, and cafeteria cashier. (T. 26.) The ALJ therefore concluded that Plaintiff is not disabled.

         D. The Parties' Briefings on the Their Cross-Motions

         1. Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings

         Generally, Plaintiff makes two arguments in support of her motion for judgment on the pleadings. (Dkt. No. 9, at 5-11 [Pl.'s Mem. of Law].) First, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence because she failed to consider all of the medical source statements when formulating the RFC. (Id. at 5-8.) More specifically, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in failing to discuss or weigh the opinion from State Agency medical consultant K. Liber-Diaz, Ph.D., which Plaintiff argues is not harmless error because Dr. Liber-Diaz's opinion indicates limitations in accepting instructions, responding to criticism, setting goals, making plans, and handling stress that are not accounted for in the RFC limitation for unskilled work. (Id. at 6-8.) Plaintiff ...


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