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Volpe v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, W.D. New York

January 10, 2020

ALESSANDRA ROXANNE VOLPE, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

          DON D. BUSH, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Alessandra Roxanne Volpe (“Plaintiff”) brings this action pursuant to the Social Security Act (the “Act”), seeking review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the “Commissioner”) that denied her application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Act, and her application for supplemental security income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Act. See ECF No. 1. The Court has jurisdiction over this action under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c), and the parties consented to proceed before the undersigned in accordance with a standing order (see ECF No. 14).

         Both parties moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). See ECF Nos. 9, 13. Plaintiff also filed a reply. See ECF No. 15. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's motion (ECF No. 9) is GRANTED, the Commissioner's motion (ECF No. 13) is DENIED, and this matter is REMANDED to the Commissioner for further administrative proceedings.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff protectively filed her DIB and SSI applications on September 26, 2014, alleging disability beginning December 4, 2012 (the disability onset date) due to: “(1) knees; (2) GI issues; (3) anxiety; (4) depression; (5) ADD; (6) sleep apnea; (7) shoulder; (8) back; (9) migraines; (10) asthma; and (11) allergies.” Transcript (“Tr.”) 173-79, 187-92, 220. Plaintiff's applications were denied initially on April 28, 2015 (96-97), after which she requested an administrative hearing (Tr. 10, 171). On August 15, 2017, Administrative Law Judge Paul Georger (the “ALJ”) presided over a hearing in Buffalo, New York. Tr. 10, 38. Plaintiff appeared and testified at the hearing and was represented by Felice A. Brodsky, an attorney. Id. Jay Steinbrenner, an impartial vocational expert (“VE”), also appeared and testified at the hearing. Id.

         The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on October 3, 2017, finding that Plaintiff was not disabled. Tr. 10-23. On September 25, 2018, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for further review. Tr. 1-6. The ALJ's decision thus became the “final decision” of the Commissioner subject to judicial review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         LEGAL STANDARD

         I. District Court Review

         “In reviewing a final decision of the SSA, this Court is limited to determining whether the SSA's conclusions were supported by substantial evidence in the record and were based on a correct legal standard.” Talavera v. Astrue, 697 F.3d 145, 151 (2d Cir. 2012) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)) (other citation omitted). The Act holds that the Commissioner's decision is “conclusive” if it is supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). “Substantial evidence means more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Moran v. Astrue, 569 F.3d 108, 112 (2d Cir. 2009) (citations omitted). It is not the Court's function to “determine de novo whether [the claimant] is disabled.” Schaal v. Apfel, 134 F.3d 496, 501 (2d Cir. 1990).

         II. The Sequential Evaluation Process

         An ALJ must follow a five-step sequential evaluation to determine whether a claimant is disabled within the meaning of the Act. See Parker v. City of New York, 476 U.S. 467, 470-71 (1986). At step one, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful work activity. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b). If so, the claimant is not disabled. If not, the ALJ proceeds to step two and determines whether the claimant has an impairment, or combination of impairments, that is “severe” within the meaning of the Act, meaning that it imposes significant restrictions on the claimant's ability to perform basic work activities. Id. § 404.1520(c). If the claimant does not have a severe impairment or combination of impairments meeting the durational requirements, the analysis concludes with a finding of “not disabled.” If the claimant does, the ALJ continues to step three.

         At step three, the ALJ examines whether a claimant's impairment meets or medically equals the criteria of a listed impairment in Appendix 1 of Subpart P of Regulation No. 4 (the “Listings”). Id. § 404.1520(d). If the impairment meets or medically equals the criteria of a Listing and meets the durational requirement, the claimant is disabled. Id. § 404.1509. If not, the ALJ determines the claimant's residual functional capacity, which is the ability to perform physical or mental work activities on a sustained basis notwithstanding limitations for the collective impairments. See id. § 404.1520(e)-(f).

         The ALJ then proceeds to step four and determines whether the claimant's RFC permits him or her to perform the requirements of his or her past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f). If the claimant can perform such requirements, then he or she is not disabled. Id. If he or she cannot, the analysis proceeds to the fifth and final step, wherein the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that the claimant is not disabled. Id. § 404.1520(g). To do so, the Commissioner must present evidence to demonstrate that the claimant “retains a residual functional capacity to perform alternative substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy” ...


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