United States District Court, W.D. New York
DECISION AND ORDER
MICHAEL A. TELESCA, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Richardson (“Plaintiff”), represented by counsel,
brings this action under Titles II and XVI 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 applications for Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”). 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, Plaintiff's motion is denied and
Defendant's motion is granted.
March 1, 2013, Plaintiff protectively filed applications for
DIB and SSI, alleging disability as of August 8, 2009, due to
back and neck problems, sciatica, and herniated disks.
Administrative Transcript (“T.”) 86, 162-69. The
claims were initially denied on May 17, 2013. T. 102-07. At
Plaintiff's request, a hearing was conducted on December
11, 2014, in Buffalo, New York by administrative law judge
(“ALJ”) Stephen Cordovani, with Plaintiff
appearing with her attorney. A vocational expert
(“VE”) also testified. T. 34-85. The ALJ issued
an unfavorable decision on April 6, 2015. T. 14-33. Plaintiff
appealed the decision to the Appeals Council
(“AC”), which denied Plaintiff's request for
review on June 16, 2016, making the ALJ's decision the
final decision of the Commissioner. T. 8-10. This action
applied the five-step sequential evaluation promulgated by
the Commissioner for adjudicating disability claims.
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a).
one of the sequential evaluation, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since August 8, 2009, the alleged onset date. T. 19. Although
Plaintiff had worked as a babysitter since the onset date,
the ALJ found this work activity did not rise to the level of
substantial gainful activity. Id.
two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the following
“severe” impairments: a lumbar disc bulge and
superimposed left foraminal protrusion at ¶ 4-5, with
the bulging disc having a subtle effect of the normal caliber
thecal sac and a mild/moderate degree of left foraminal
narrowing. T. 20. The ALJ also noted that Plaintiff alleged
she had a neck impairment, which was evident on a 2007 MRI
examination. However, the ALJ found Plaintiff had not sought
treatment for her neck pain or cervical spine problems, nor
had she mentioned any such issues to her medical providers
from the time she began seeking medical treatment for her
other impairments in 2013 through the date of her hearing. He
further found these impairments had no significant impact on
Plaintiff's work-related functional abilities.
Accordingly, the ALJ found these additional impairments to be
addition to Plaintiff's medically determinable physical
impairments, the ALJ noted Plaintiff's attorney also
alleged “a potentially severe psychological
impairment” in his pre-hearing memorandum, based
presumably on Plaintiff's visit to the emergency
department with complaints of depression and back pain in May
2014, followed the next day by a psychiatric evaluation.
Id. (referring to T. 237-38 and T. 263-320). Based
on the record and Plaintiff's testimony, the ALJ found
Plaintiff made minimal efforts to obtain follow-up care for
depression and failed to mention any mental health issues to
her primary care providers. He further found Plaintiff's
medically determinable mental impairment of depressive
disorder did not cause more than a minimal limitation in her
ability to perform basic mental work activities. Accordingly,
the ALJ found Plaintiff's depressive disorder to be
non-severe. T. 21-22.
three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's impairments did not
singularly or in combination meet or medically equal the
severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part
404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. T. 23.
proceeding to step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff
retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”)
to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §
404.1567(b) and 416.967(b), with the following additional
limitations: can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch,
crawl, and climb ramps or stairs; and can never climb
ladders, ropes or scaffolds. Id.
four, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was capable of
performing past relevant work as an assembler, production. T.
27. In the alternative, at step five, the ALJ relied on the
VE's testimony to find that there are other jobs existing
in the national economy Plaintiff is also able to perform,
including the representative occupations of marker, office
helper, and cashier. T. 28. The ALJ accordingly found that
Plaintiff was not disabled as defined in the Act. T. 29.
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)