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June S. v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, N.D. New York

July 27, 2018

JUNE S., Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          LAW OFFICES OF STEVEN R. DOLSON Attorney for Plaintiff

          SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION Office of Regional General Counsel Attorney for Defendant

          STEVEN R. DOLSON, ESQ., VERNON NORWOOD, ESQ. Special Assistant U.S. Attorney

          MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER [1]

          DANIEL J. STEWART, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         In this action, Plaintiff June S. moves, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), for review of a decision by the Commissioner of Social Security denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). Presently pending are Plaintiff's and Defendant's Motions for Judgment on the Pleadings pursuant to this Court's General Order 18. Dkt. Nos. 10 & 12. Based upon the following discussion, Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings is granted and the case is ordered remanded to the Commissioner for further proceedings. Defendant's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings is denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was born on February 22, 1952. Dkt. No. 9, Admin. Tr. [hereinafter “Tr.”] at p. 268. She filed an application for DIB on March 6, 2011and for SSI on April 1, 2011. Tr. at p. 268-80. These applications alleged a disability onset date of June 11, 2010. Tr. at p. 268. The basis for the claimed disability was fibromyalgia, bipolar disorder, depression, chronic pain, and fatigue. Tr. at p. 272. Plaintiff has a high school education and past work experience as typist/administrative assistant. Tr. at pp. 23 & 298. Plaintiff's applications were denied on initial review. Tr. at pp. 60, 64, & 67. On August 30, 2013, a Hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) and a decision was issued. Tr. at pp. 37-47. Upon appeal, the Social Security Administration's Appeals Council remanded the matter for further proceedings before the ALJ. Tr. at pp. 53-55. Plaintiff appeared for a second administrative hearing at which she and a vocational expert testified. Tr. at pp. 640-64. On August 18, 2015, ALJ John P. Ramos issued an unfavorable decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. Tr. at pp. 15-25. On May 10, 2017, the Appeals Council concluded there was no basis to review the ALJ's decision, thus rendering the ALJ's decision the final determination of the Commissioner. Tr. at pp. 8-10. This action followed.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Standard of Review

         Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the proper standard of review for this Court is not to employ a de novo review, but rather to discern whether substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's findings and that the correct legal standards have been applied. See Rivera v. Sullivan, 923 F.2d 964, 967 (2d Cir. 1991); Urtz v. Callahan, 965 F.Supp. 324, 325-26 (N.D.N.Y. 1997) (citing Johnson v. Bowen, 817 F.2d 983, 985 (2d Cir. 1987)). Succinctly defined, substantial evidence is “more than a mere scintilla” of evidence scattered throughout the administrative record; rather, it is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Consol. Edison Co. of New York v. N.L.R.B., 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938); see also Williams ex. rel. Williams v. Bowen, 859 F.2d 255, 258 (2d Cir. 1988). “To determine on appeal whether an [Administrative Law Judge's] findings are supported by substantial evidence, a reviewing court considers the whole record, examining the evidence from both sides, because an analysis of the substantiality of the evidence must also include that which detracts from its weight.” Williams ex. rel. Williams v. Bowen, 859 F.2d at 258.

         The Administrative Law Judge must set forth the crucial factors supporting the decision with sufficient specificity. Ferraris v. Heckler, 728 F.2d 582, 587 (2d Cir. 1984). Where the ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence, the court may not interject its interpretation of the administrative record. Williams ex rel. Williams v. Bowen, 859 F.2d at 258; 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). However, where the weight of the evidence does not meet the requirement for substantial evidence or a reasonable basis for doubt exists as to whether correct legal principles were applied, the ALJ's decision may not be affirmed. Johnson v. Bowen, 817 F.2d at 986.

         B. Determination of Disability

         To be considered disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act, a plaintiff must establish an “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). Furthermore, the claimant's physical or mental impairments must be of such severity as to prevent engagement in any kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy. Id. at § 423(d)(2)(A).

         In determining whether a claimant is disabled, the Commissioner follows a five-step analysis set forth in the Social Security Administration Regulations. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920. At Step One, the Commissioner “considers whether the claimant is currently engaged in gainful activity.” Berry v. Schweiker, 675 F.2d 464, 467 (2d Cir. 1982). If the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity, he or she is not disabled and the inquiry ends. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(b). If the claimant is not engaged in substantial gainful activity, the Commissioner proceeds to Step Two and assesses whether the claimant suffers from a severe impairment that significantly limits his or her physical or mental ability to do basic work activities. Id. at § 416.920(c). If the claimant suffers from a severe impairment, the Commissioner considers at Step Three whether such impairment(s) meets or equals an impairment listed in Appendix 1, in Part 404, Subpart P of the Regulations. Id. at § 416.920(d). The Commissioner makes this assessment without considering vocational factors such as age, education, and work experience. Berry v. Schweiker, 675 F.2d at 467. Where the claimant has such an impairment the inquiry ceases as he or she is presumed to be disabled and unable to perform substantial gainful activity. Id. If the claimant's impairment(s) does not meet or equal the listed impairments, the Commissioner proceeds to Step Four and considers whether the claimant has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”)[2]to perform his or her past relevant work despite the existence of severe impairments. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(e). If the claimant cannot perform his or her past work, then at Step Five, the Commissioner considers whether the claimant can perform any other work available in the national economy. Berry v. Schweiker, 675 F.2d at 467; 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(f).

         Initially, the burden of proof lies with the claimant to show that his or her impairment(s) prevents a return to previous employment (Steps One through Four). Berry v. Schweiker, 675 F.2d at 467. If the claimant meets that burden, the burden then shifts to the Commissioner at Step Five to establish, with specific reference to medical evidence, that the claimant's physical and/or mental impairment(s) are not of such severity as to prevent him or her from performing work that is available within the national economy. Id.; 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A); see also White v. Sec'y of Health and Human Servs., 910 F.2d 64, 65 (2d Cir. 1990). In making this showing at Step Five, the claimant's RFC must be considered along with ...


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