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McCann v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, W.D. New York

January 13, 2020

LISA MCCANN, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          DECISION AND ORDER

          Elizabeth A. Wolford, United States District Judge

         INTRODUCTION

         Represented by counsel, plaintiff Lisa McCann ("Plaintiff) brings this action pursuant to Title 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 in part her application for supplemental security income ("SSI"). (Dkt. 1). This Court has jurisdiction over the matter pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         Presently before the Court are the parties' cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (Dkt. 12; Dkt. 18), and Plaintiffs reply (Dkt. 19). For the reasons discussed below, the Commissioner's motion (Dkt. 18) is denied, Plaintiffs motion (Dkt. 12) is granted in part, and this matter is remanded for further administrative proceedings.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff protectively filed her application for SSI on April 15, 2014. (Dkt. 6 at 15, 64).[1] In her application, Plaintiff alleged disability beginning January 1, 2014, due to carpal tunnel in both wrists, depression, and anxiety. (Id. at 64). Plaintiffs application was initially denied on September 9, 2014. (Id. at 79-83). At Plaintiffs request, a video hearing was held on May 19, 2017, before administrative law judge ("ALJ") Christine Cutter, who presided over the hearing from Portland, Maine. (Id. at 37-38). Although Plaintiff did not personally appear, Plaintiffs counsel appeared on her behalf. (Id. at 38-39). On June 7, 2017, the ALJ issued a partially favorable decision finding Plaintiff was not disabled prior to May 19, 2017, but had become disabled on that date. (Id. at 11-28). Plaintiff requested Appeals Council review; her request was denied on February 27, 2018, making the ALJ's determination the Commissioner's final decision. (Id. at 5-7). This action followed.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         I. District Court Review

         "In reviewing a final decision of the [Social Security Administration ("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) (quotation omitted); see also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The Act holds that a decision by the Commissioner 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) (quotation 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. 1998) (quotation omitted); see also Wagner v. Sec 'y of Health & Human Servs., 906 F.2d 856, 860 (2d Cir. 1990) (holding that review of the Secretary's decision is not de novo and that the Secretary's findings are conclusive if supported by substantial evidence). However, "[t]he deferential standard of review for substantial evidence does not apply to the Commissioner's conclusions of law." Byam v. Barnhart, 336 F.3d 172, 179 (2d Cir. 2003) (citing Townley v. Heckler, 748 F.2d 109, 112 (2d Cir. 1984)).

         II. Disability Determination

         An ALJ follows 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 determines whether the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful work activity. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(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, in that it imposes significant restrictions on the claimant's ability to perform basic work activities. Id. § 416.920(c). If the claimant does not have a severe impairment or combination of impairments, the analysis concludes with a finding of "not disabled." If the claimant does have at least one severe impairment, 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. § 416.920(d). If the impairment meets or medically equals the criteria of a Listing and meets the durational requirement (id. § 416.909), the claimant is disabled. If not, the ALJ determines the claimant's residual functional capacity ("RFC"), which is the ability to perform physical or mental work activities on a sustained basis, notwithstanding limitations for the collective impairments. See Id. § 416.920(e).

         The ALJ then proceeds to step four and determines whether the claimant's RFC permits the claimant to perform the requirements of his or her past relevant work. Id. § 416.920(f). If the claimant can perform such requirements, then he or she is not disabled. 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. ยง 416.920(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 ...


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