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Henderson v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, W.D. New York

January 8, 2020

Mary Ellen Henderson, Plaintiff,
v.
Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          DECISION AND ORDER

          Hon. Hugh B. Scott United States Magistrate Judge.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         The parties have consented to this Court's jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). The Court has reviewed the Certified Administrative Record in this case (Dkt. No. 6, hereafter cited in brackets), and familiarity is presumed. This case comes before the Court on cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Dkt. Nos. 11, 16.) In short, plaintiff is challenging the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the “Commissioner”) that she was not entitled to Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. The Court has deemed the motions submitted on papers under Rule 78(b).

         II. DISCUSSION

         “The scope of review of a disability determination . . . involves two levels of inquiry. We must first decide whether HHS applied the correct legal principles in making the determination. We must then decide whether the determination is supported by substantial evidence.” Johnson v. Bowen, 817 F.2d 983, 985 (2d Cir. 1987) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). When a district court reviews a denial of benefits, the Commissioner's findings as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence is defined as “‘more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quoting Consol. Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)); see also Tejada v. Apfel, 167 F.3d 770, 773-74 (2d Cir. 1999).

         The substantial evidence standard applies to both findings on basic evidentiary facts, and to inferences and conclusions drawn from the facts. Stupakevich v. Chater, 907 F.Supp. 632, 637 (E.D.N.Y. 1995); Smith v. Shalala, 856 F.Supp. 118, 121 (E.D.N.Y. 1994). When reviewing a Commissioner's decision, the court must determine whether “the record, read as a whole, yields such evidence as would allow a reasonable mind to accept the conclusions reached” by the Commissioner. Winkelsas v. Apfel, No. 99-CV-0098H, 2000 WL 575513, at *2 (W.D.N.Y. Feb. 14, 2000). In assessing the substantiality of evidence, the Court must consider evidence that detracts from the Commissioner's decision, as well as evidence that supports it. Briggs v. Callahan, 139 F.3d 606, 608 (8th Cir. 1998). The Court may not reverse the Commissioner merely because substantial evidence would have supported the opposite conclusion. Id.

         For purposes of Social Security disability insurance benefits, a person is disabled when unable “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) & 1382c(a)(3)(A).

         Such a disability will be found to exist only if an individual's “physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that [he or she] is not only unable to do [his or her] previous work but cannot, considering [his or her] age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy. . . .” 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d) (2)(A) & 1382c(a)(3)(B).

         Plaintiff bears the initial burden of showing that the claimed impairments will prevent a return to any previous type of employment. Berry v. Schweiker, 675 F.2d 464, 467 (2d Cir. 1982).

         Once this burden has been met, “the burden shifts to the [Commissioner] to prove the existence of alternative substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy and which the plaintiff could perform.” Id.; see also Dumas v. Schweiker, 712 F.2d 1545, 1551 (2d Cir. 1983); Parker v. Harris, 626 F.2d 225, 231 (2d Cir. 1980).

         To determine whether any plaintiff is suffering from a disability, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) must employ a five-step inquiry:

(1) whether the plaintiff is currently working;
(2) whether the plaintiff suffers from a severe impairment;
(3) whether the impairment is listed in Appendix 1 of the ...

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