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Caci v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, W.D. New York

January 2, 2020

Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.




         Plaintiff Lynn Marie Caci (“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 Commissioner of Social Security (“the Commissioner” or “Defendant”), denying her applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). Docket No. 1. The Court has jurisdiction over the matter pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). 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. See Docket Nos. 9, 12, 13. For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings (Docket No. 12) is granted, and Plaintiff's motion (Docket No. 9) is denied.


         On November 19, 2014, Plaintiff protectively filed applications for DIB and SSI, alleging disability as of May 10, 2011, due to “[l]eft and right knee issues (no cartilage in knees) [and] [d]epression.” Administrative Transcript (“T.”) 10, 80, 89, 98-99. The claims were initially denied on April 9, 2015. T. 10, 104-09. At Plaintiff's request, a hearing was conducted on April 7, 2017, by administrative law judge (“ALJ”) Kenneth Theurer. T. 10, 26-60. At her hearing, Plaintiff amended her alleged onset date of disability to June 18, 2013. Id. The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on May 18, 2017. T. 7-19. Plaintiff appealed the decision to the Appeals Council, which denied her request for review on May 15, 2018, making the ALJ's decision the final determination of the Commissioner. T. 1-3. This action followed.


         The ALJ applied the five-step sequential evaluation promulgated by the Commissioner for adjudicating disability claims. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a), 416.920(a). The ALJ initially found that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through September 30, 2019. T. 12. At step one of the sequential evaluation, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 18, 2013, the amended alleged onset date. Id.

         At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the following “severe” impairments: a bilateral knee issue, thyroiditis, and obesity. T. 12-13. The ALJ further found that Plaintiff's medically determinable impairment of depression was non-severe. T. 13-14.

         At step 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. 14. The ALJ specifically considered Listing 1.02 (major dysfunction of a joint) in making this determination. Id.

         Before proceeding to step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform sedentary work, as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a), except: “she can only lift ten pounds occasionally. The claimant can never kneel, crawl or climb ladders/ropes/scaffolds; but she can rarely (more than never, less than occasional) climb stairs/ramps; and she can occasionally balance, stoop and crouch. She requires the use of a cane to ambulate; however, she retains the ability to carry a small object, such as a file, in her free hand. The claimant may alternate from a seated to a standing position - or vice versa - two times per hour, for no more than five minutes, while remaining on task. The claimant is limited to simple, routine and repetitive tasks, in a work environment free of fast-paced production requirements, involving only simple work-related decisions, with few, if any, workplace changes.” T. 15.

         At step four, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work. T. 17.

         At step five, the ALJ found that, considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform, including the representative occupations of ticket taker, document preparer, and order clerk, food and beverage. T. 17-18. The ALJ accordingly found that Plaintiff was not disabled as defined in the Act. T. 18-19.


         A 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) ...

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