United States District Court, W.D. New York
DECISION AND ORDER
MICHAEL A. TELESCA UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Zhang (“Plaintiff”), represented by counsel,
brings this action under Title II 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 disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”). 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, the Commissioner's decision is reversed,
Plaintiff's motion is granted to the extent that the
matter is remanded solely for calculation and payment of
benefits. Defendant's motion is denied.
September 27, 2013, Plaintiff protectively filed for DIB,
alleging disability beginning April 1, 2013. Administrative
Transcript (“T.”) 222-29. The claim was initially
denied on March 26, 2013, and Plaintiff timely requested a
hearing. T. 96-132. An initial hearing was conducted on
September 22, 2015, in Falls Church, Virginia by
administrative law judge (“ALJ”) Roxanne Fuller,
for which Plaintiff did not appear. T. 82-85. A second
hearing was conducted on December 10, 2015, in Falls Church,
Virginia by the same ALJ, with Plaintiff appearing via video
conference with her attorney, along with a Mandarin
interpreter and a Cantonese interpreter. T. 59-80.
issued an unfavorable decision on April 6, 2016. T. 39-58.
Plaintiff timely requested review of the ALJ's decision
by the Appeals Council. The Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review on May 24, 2017, making
the ALJ's decision the final decision of the
Commissioner. T. 1-6. Plaintiff then timely commenced this
applied the five-step sequential evaluation promulgated by
the Commissioner for adjudicating disability claims.
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a). At step one, the
ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial
gainful employment since her alleged onset date of April 1,
2012. T. 44. At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff
has the “severe” impairments of depression and
schizophrenia. Id. At step three, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that meets or medically equals an impairment
listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. T. 45.
proceeding to step four, the ALJ assessed Plaintiff as having
the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to
perform a full range of work at all exertional levels as
defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567, with the following
nonexertional limitations: able to perform simple,
repetitive, routine tasks; no interaction with the public;
and only occasional, superficial interaction with coworkers
and supervisors. T. 46.
four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff is able to perform her
past relevant work as a hand packager. T. 53. At step five,
the ALJ relied on the VE's testimony to determine that,
in addition to being able to perform her past relevant work,
a person of Plaintiff's age, and with her education, work
experience, and RFC, could perform the requirements of the
following representative jobs that exist in significant
numbers in the national economy: Dishwasher (Dictionary of
Occupational Titles (“DOT”) No. 318.687-010,
unskilled, SVP 2, medium exertional level); Salvage laborer
(DOT No. 929.687-022, unskilled, SVP 2, medium exertional
level); and Hospital cleaner (DOT No. 323.687-010, unskilled,
SVP 2, medium exertional level). T. 54. The ALJ accordingly
found that Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as
defined in the Act, since the application date. Id.
district court may set aside the Commissioner's
determination that a claimant is not disabled only if the
factual findings are not supported by “substantial
evidence” or if the decision is based on legal error.
42 U.S.C. § 405(g); see also Green-Younger v.
Barnhart, 335 F.3d 99, 105-06 (2d Cir. 2003). The
district court must accept the Commissioner's findings of
fact, provided that such findings are supported by
“substantial evidence” in the record.
See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (the Commissioner's
findings “as to any fact, if supported by substantial
evidence, shall be conclusive”). “Substantial
evidence means ‘such relevant evidence as a reasonable
mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.'” Shaw v. Chater, 221 F.3d
126, 131 (2d Cir. 2000) (quotation omitted). The reviewing
court nevertheless must scrutinize the whole record and
examine evidence that supports or detracts from both sides.
Tejada v. Apfel, 167 F.3d 770, 774 (2d Cir. 1998)
(citation omitted). “The deferential standard of review
for substantial evidence does not apply to the
Commissioner's conclusions of law.” Byam v.
Barnhart, 336 F.3d 172, 179 (2d Cir. 2003) (citing
Townley v. Heckler, 748 F.2d 109, 112 (2d Cir.
contends that remand for calculation and payment of benefits
is warranted because the ALJ failed to properly weigh the
opinions of Plaintiff's treating psychiatrist, Dr. Cui,
and Plaintiff's treating psychologist, Dr. Kwasnik. In
particular, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ: (1) failed to give
proper weight to the disability-supporting opinions of Drs.
Cui and Kwasnik; (2) failed to give good reasons for
rejecting the disability-supporting opinions; and (3) failed
to properly evaluate the objective evidence in Drs. Cui and
Kwasnik's treatment notes. Plaintiff further contends the
ALJ failed to properly evaluate Plaintiff's testimony
under the applicable regulations. Specifically, Plaintiff
argues that the ALJ: (1) failed to apply ...