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Lewandowski v. Saul

United States District Court, W.D. New York

January 8, 2020



          Hon. Hugh B. Scott United States Magistrate Judge.

         Before the Court are the parties' respective motions for judgment on the pleadings (Docket Nos. 10 (plaintiff), 21 (defendant Commissioner)). Having considered the Administrative Record, filed as Docket No. 7 (references noted as “[R.__ ]”), and the papers of both sides, this Court reaches the following decision.


         This is an action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to review the final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security that plaintiff is not disabled and, therefore, is not entitled to disability insurance benefits and/or Supplemental Security Income benefits. The parties consented to proceed before a Magistrate Judge (Docket No. 23, Order of Oct. 4, 2019).


         The plaintiff (“Victoria Lewandowski” or “plaintiff”) filed an application for disability insurance benefits on February 12, 2014 [R. 15], and Supplemental Security Income benefits on March 3, 2014 [R. 15]. That application was denied initially. The plaintiff appeared before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), who considered the case de novo and concluded, in a written decision dated August 11, 2017, that the plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner on June 27, 2018, when the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review.

         Plaintiff commenced this action on August 21, 2018 (Docket No. 1). The parties moved for judgment on the pleadings (Docket Nos. 10, 21), and plaintiff duly replied (Docket No. 22). Upon further consideration, this Court then determined that the motions could be decided on the papers.


         Plaintiff, a 25-year-old with a bachelor of arts degree, has no past relevant work [R. 34-35]. Plaintiff contends that she was disabled as of the onset date of August 31, 2002 [R. 15]. Plaintiff claims the following impairments deemed severe by the ALJ: cerebellar vascular accident (“CVA”), transient ischemic attack (“TIA”), migraine headaches, obesity, bilateral knee degenerative joint disease, right shoulder impingement syndrome, degenerative disc disease of the cervical and lumbar spine, asthma, allergic rhinitis, a depressive disorder, an anxiety disorder, a cognitive disorder [R. 18]. As for plaintiff's obesity, the ALJ found that plaintiff was 5'7” tall and weighed 282 to 300 pounds [R. 24, 54 (plaintiff's testimony, Jan. 10, 2017)], earlier weighing 236 pounds when examined by consultative examiner Dr. Hongbiao Liu in May 2014 [R. 442]. Plaintiff also claims a litany of other ailments (such as a history of strokes and concussions, GERD, osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, colitis, hypertension) that the ALJ did not find were sufficiently documented in the record to reach the level of severe impairment [R. 18].


         At Step Two for Listings 12.04 or 12.06, the ALJ evaluated whether “Paragraph B” criteria were met, looking at the four areas of functioning. The ALJ found that plaintiff had moderate limitations in each of the four areas. [R. 21-23.]

         In May 2014, plaintiff was examined by consultative examiner, Dr. Liu [R. 440, 29]. After noting plaintiff's various surgeries and medical conditions up to that date [R. 440-41], Dr. Liu noted that plaintiff did not appear in acute distress, had normal gait, intact dexterity, and normal range of motion, full strength in upper extremities [R. 442-43]. Dr. Liu diagnosed plaintiff with anxiety and depression; history of stroke; history of asthma; history of fibromyalgia; chronic neck and low back pain; gastric reflux disease; and obesity [R. 443]. Dr. Liu opined that plaintiff has mild to moderate limitation for prolonged walking, bending, and kneeling [R. 443], stating that plaintiff should avoid dust and other irritants due to asthma [R. 443]. The ALJ later gave “very significant weight” to Dr. Liu's opinion due to his expertise, and the relative consistency of his opinion with the longitudinal medical record including plaintiff's good response to consistent medical treatment [R. 32].

         At her initial hearing on January 10, 2017, plaintiff testified that she was limited by back issues, knee pain, hand and wrist pain, coordination problems, migraine headaches, bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, and asthma [R. 24, 56-57, 60-62]. She had a stroke in 2003 that affected her left side [R. 24, 58]. She had a second stroke in 2004 [R. 24, 59]. She claimed that she could not work because she was unable to stand or sit for long periods of time [R. 24, 60]. She had a series of surgeries on her wrists, elbow, and left knee starting in 2010 through 2013 [R. 25].

         The ALJ emphasized plaintiff's service as an assistant leader for ...

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