Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Graves v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, W.D. New York

August 2, 2018

MELANIE M. GRAVES, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          DECISION AND ORDER

          WILLIAM M. SKRETNY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         1. Plaintiff Melanie Graves challenges the determination of an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) that she is not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act (“the Act”). Plaintiff alleges that she has been disabled since October 9, 2014, due to cervical disc herniation with stenosis and myeloradiculopathy, pseudo-arthritis, migraine headaches, depression, and anxiety. Plaintiff contends that her impairments render her unable to work, and thus, she is entitled to disability benefits under the Act.

         2. Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits on October 16, 2014, which the Commissioner denied on January 30, 2015. Plaintiff thereafter requested a hearing before an ALJ. On August 17, 2016, ALJ Robert T. Harvey held a hearing at which Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified. Vocational Expert (“VE”) Michele Erbacher also testified. At the time of the hearing, Plaintiff was 44 years old, with a bachelor's degree, and past work experience as a medical aide and Medicaid service coordinator. The ALJ considered the case de novo and, on September 6, 2016, issued a written decision denying Plaintiff's application for benefits. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on November 14, 2016. Plaintiff filed the current action on January 11, 2017, challenging the Commissioner's final decision.[1]

         3. On August 8, 2017, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings under Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Docket No. 12). On October 10, 2017, the Commissioner filed a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. (Docket No. 15). Plaintiff filed a reply on October 23, 2017 (Docket No. 16), at which time this Court took the matter under advisement without oral argument. For the following reasons, Plaintiff's motion is granted, and Defendant's motion is denied.

         4. A court reviewing a denial of disability benefits may not determine de novo whether an individual is disabled. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3); Wagner v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 906 F.2d 856, 860 (2d Cir. 1990). Rather, the Commissioner's determination will be reversed only if it is not supported by substantial evidence or there has been a legal error. See Grey v. Heckler, 721 F.2d 41, 46 (2d Cir. 1983); Marcus v. Califano, 615 F.2d 23, 27 (2d Cir. 1979). Substantial evidence is that which amounts to “more than a mere scintilla, ” and it has been defined as “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 1427, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971). Where evidence is deemed susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the Commissioner's conclusion must be upheld. See Rutherford v. Schweiker, 685 F.2d 60, 62 (2d Cir. 1982).

         5. “To determine on appeal whether an ALJ'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 on Behalf of Williams v. Bowen, 859 F.2d 255, 258 (2d Cir. 1988). If supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's finding must be sustained “even where substantial evidence may support the plaintiff's position and despite that the court's independent analysis of the evidence may differ from the [Commissioner's].” Rosado v. Sullivan, 805 F.Supp. 147, 153 (S.D.N.Y. 1992). In other words, this Court must afford the Commissioner's determination considerable deference and will not substitute “its own judgment for that of the [Commissioner], even if it might justifiably have reached a different result upon a de novo review.” Valente v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 733 F.2d 1037, 1041 (2d Cir. 1984).

         6. The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential evaluation process to determine whether an individual is disabled under the Act. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. The Supreme Court of the United States recognized the validity of this analysis in Bowen v. Yuckert, and it remains the proper approach for analyzing whether a claimant is disabled. 482 U.S. 137, 140-42, 107 S.Ct. 2287, 2291, 96 L.Ed.2d 119 (1987).

         7. The five-step process is as follows:

First, the [Commissioner] considers whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity. If he is not, the [Commissioner] next considers whether the claimant has a “severe impairment” which significantly limits his physical or mental ability to do basic work activities. If the claimant suffers such an impairment, the third inquiry is whether, based solely on medical evidence, the claimant has an impairment which is listed in Appendix 1 of the regulations. If the claimant has such an impairment, the [Commissioner] will consider him disabled without considering vocational factors such as age, education, and work experience; the [Commissioner] presumes that a claimant who is afflicted with a “listed” impairment is unable to perform substantial gainful activity. Assuming the claimant does not have a listed impairment, the fourth inquiry is whether, despite the claimant's severe impairment, he has the residual functional capacity to perform his past work. Finally, if the claimant is unable to perform his past work, the [Commissioner] then determines whether there is other work which the claimant could perform.

Berry v. Schweiker, 675 F.2d 464, 467 (2d Cir. 1982) (per curiam) (quotations in original); see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520; Rosa v. Callahan, 168 F.3d 72, 77 (2d Cir. 1999).

         8. Although the claimant has the burden of proof on the first four steps, the Commissioner has the burden of proof on the fifth and final step. See Bowen, 482 U.S. at 146 n.5; Ferraris v. Heckler, 728 F.2d 582, 584 (2d Cir. 1984). The final step is divided into two parts. First, the Commissioner must assess the claimant's job qualifications by considering his physical ability, age, education, and work experience. Second, the Commissioner must determine whether jobs exist in the national economy that a person having the claimant's qualifications could perform. See 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f); Heckler v. Campbell, 461 U.S. 458, 460, 103 S.Ct. 1952, 1954, 76 L.Ed.2d 66 (1983).

         9. In this case, the ALJ made the following findings with regard to the five-step process set forth above: (1) Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since October 9, 2014, the alleged onset date (R. at 17);[2] (2) Plaintiff's discogenic cervical spine, cervical radiculopathy, status post C5-C6 facetectomy and foraminotomy, C4-C7 fusion, migraine headaches, depression, and anxiety are severe impairments within the meaning of the Act (R. at 17); (3) Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meet or medically equal any of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (R. at 17); (4) Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a range of light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b), with certain exceptions[3] (R. at 19) and could not perform her past relevant work (R. at 24); (5) Plaintiff could perform jobs that exist in significant number in the national economy (R. at 24). Accordingly, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not under a disability as defined by the Act during the relevant period-October 9, 2014, through September 6, 2016. (R. at 25).

         10. Plaintiff contends that remand is required because the ALJ's decision is fundamentally dishonest and is not supported by substantial evidence. Each argument is discussed in turn.

         11. Plaintiff first contends that the ALJ's decision is fundamentally dishonest because the ALJ mischaracterized Plaintiff's testimony about her daily living skills and manipulated the VE's testimony. Specifically, Plaintiff faults the ALJ for finding that she could lift a gallon of milk and crochet as part of her daily living activities. Plaintiff maintains that she can only lift a gallon of milk with two hands and can only crochet ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.