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Minor v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, E.D. New York

January 15, 2020

LINDA J. MINOR, Plaintiff,



         Plaintiff seeks social security disability insurance benefits, alleging that she became disabled around June 2015, due to myasthenia gravis, [1] hypertension, and high cholesterol. The Administrative Law Judge disagreed and found that she was able to perform light work with restrictions and thus not disabled as defined by the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401. Plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings raises two arguments: (1) the ALJ erroneously concluded that her myasthenia gravis symptoms did not meet the requirements for a Listed impairment; and (2) the ALJ's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) assessment was not supported by substantial evidence. Both of these arguments lack merit, and I therefore grant defendant's cross-motion for judgment on the pleadings, deny plaintiff's motion, and dismiss the action.


         I. Relevant Listing

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred by concluding her myasthenia gravis symptoms didn't meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments found in 20 C.F.R. § Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (the “Listing”). It is plaintiff's burden to demonstrate that her disability meets all of the specified medical criteria in the Listing. See Sullivan v. Zebley, 493 U.S. 521, 530 (1990).

         To establish disability under the listing for myasthenia gravis, listing 11.12 requires plaintiff to show either sections A, B, or C are met despite adherence to prescribed treatment for at least 3 months:

A. Disorganization of motor function in two extremities, resulting in an extreme limitation in the ability to stand up from a seated position, balance while standing or walking, or the use of upper extremities; or
B. Bulbar and neuromuscular dysfunction, resulting in: one myasthenic crisis requiring mechanical ventilation; or need for supplemental enteral nutrition via a gastrostomy or parenteral nutrition via a central venous catheter; or
C. Marked limitation in physical functioning, and in one of the following: understanding, remembering, or applying information; interacting with others; concentrating, persisting, maintaining pace, or adapting or managing oneself.

         Plaintiff has failed to show that her symptoms met or medically equaled any section under this particular listing. As the ALJ correctly observed, plaintiff's treatment records from June 2015 to August 2018 did not support her contention that her impairment satisfied these criteria.

         Plaintiff's symptoms did not satisfy section A because her medical examinations consistently revealed normal motor functions in all four of her extremities. On May 2015, Dr. Rudrani Banik, her treating physician, examined plaintiff, observing she was in “no pain” and his notes indicate that plaintiff did not complain of any motor function limitations. A month later, plaintiff again sought medical treatment, but she didn't complain of muscle weakness, fatigue, or any other physical limitation. Plaintiff was seen from February 2017 through January 2018 by Dr. Anthony Geraci, another treating physician, whose notes indicate that plaintiff's four extremities were “normal” and that she had normal grip and motor functions. There is nothing in the medical record to show plaintiff suffered from disorganization in any extremity, let alone two, or that her motor functions were “extremely” limited.

         As to the other sections of the Listing, her symptoms could not satisfy section B because there was no evidence of bulbar and neuromuscular dysfunction, and she never required mechanical ventilation or enteral nutrition. Nor did her symptoms satisfy section C because there was no medical evidence showing marked limitation in physical functioning. Her physical examinations, summarized above, were consistently normal when describing her motor functions.

         II. Substantial Evidence

         Judicial review of disability benefit determinations is governed by 42 U.S.C. §§ 421(d) and 1383(c)(3), which expressly incorporates the standards established by 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). In relevant part, § 405(g) adopts the familiar administrative law review standard of “substantial evidence, ” i.e., that “[t]he findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive.” Thus, if the Commissioner's decision is supported by “substantial evidence” and there are no other legal or procedural deficiencies, his decision must be affirmed. The Supreme Court has defined “substantial evidence” to connote “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). “In determining whether substantial evidence supports a finding of the Secretary, the court must not look at the supporting evidence in isolation, ...

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