Sheffield v. Astrue
MEMORANDUM-DECISION and ORDER - That the decision of the Commissioner is REVERSED and REMANDED pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for proceedings consistent with the Memorandum-Decision and Order. Signed by Chief Judge Gary L. Sharpe on 11/28/2012. (jel, )
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
Commissioner of Social Security,
FOR THE PLAINTIFF:
Lachman, Gorton Law Firm
P.O. Box 89
1500 East Main Street
Endicott, NY 13761-0089
FOR THE DEFENDANT:
HON. RICHARD S. HARTUNIAN
United States Attorney
100 South Clinton Street
Syracuse, NY 13261
Steven P. Conte
Regional Chief Counsel
Social Security Administration
Office of General Counsel, Region II
26 Federal Plaza, Room 3904
New York, NY 10278
Gary L. Sharpe
PETER A. GORTON, ESQ.
DENNIS J. CANNING
Special Assistant U.S. Attorney
MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER
Plaintiff Thomas Sheffield challenges the Commissioner of Social
Security’s determination that he was no longer entitled to Supplemental
Security Income (SSI),1 seeking judicial review under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g)
and 1383(c)(3). (See Compl., Dkt. No. 1.) After reviewing the
administrative record and carefully considering Sheffield’s arguments, the
Commissioner’s decision is reversed and remanded.
Sheffield, born January 8, 1990, filed an application for SSI childhood
disability under the Social Security Act (“the Act”) in December 1996, and
was subsequently found disabled with an onset date of November 25,
1997. (See Tr.2 at 37, 97-99.) On March 2, 2009, Sheffield was notified
that he was no longer eligible for SSI due to a redetermination based upon
the adult SSI standard. (Id. at 56-59.) Sheffield sought reconsideration
and a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) was held on April
The Complaint also alleges that Sheffield made a claim for Disability Insurance
Benefits (DIB). (See Compl.) Inasmuch as no application for DIB was apparently filed by
Sheffield, the court disregards that reference.
Page references preceded by “Tr.” are to the Administrative Transcript. (See Dkt. No.
29, 2010. (Id. at 62-67, 560-578.) On June 17, 2010, the ALJ issued an
unfavorable decision and found that Sheffield’s disability ended on March
31, 2009. (Id. at 23-34.) That decision became the final decision of the
Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied Sheffield’s request for
review. (Id. at 12-14.).
Sheffield commenced the present action by filing his Complaint on
October 3, 2011 wherein he sought review of the Commissioner’s
determination. (See generally Compl.) The Commissioner filed an answer
and a certified copy of the administrative transcript. (See Dkt. Nos. 8, 9.)
Each party, seeking judgment on the pleadings, filed a brief. (See Dkt.
Nos. 12, 14.)
Sheffield contends that the Commissioner’s decision is tainted by
errors of law and is not supported by substantial evidence. (See Dkt. No.
12 at 5-12.) Specifically, Sheffield claims that the ALJ: (1) erred in finding
that he had no limitations in his abilities to deal with others and stress; and
(2) erred in failing to obtain testimony from a vocational expert (VE). (See
id.) The Commissioner counters that the appropriate legal standards were
used by the ALJ and his decision is also supported by substantial
evidence. (See Dkt. No. 14 at 11-19.)
The court adopts the parties’ undisputed factual recitations. (See
Dkt. No. 12 at 2-5; Dkt. No. 14 at 2-11.)
V. Standard of Review
The standard for reviewing the Commissioner’s final decision under
42 U.S.C. § 405(g)3 is well established and will not be repeated here. For a
full discussion of the standard and the five-step process by which the
Commissioner evaluates whether a claimant is disabled under the Act, the
court refers the parties to its previous opinion in Christiana v. Comm’r of
Soc. Sec. Admin., No. 1:05-CV-932, 2008 WL 759076, at *1-3 (N.D.N.Y.
Mar. 19, 2008).
The ALJ found that, as of March 31, 2009, Sheffield “maintain[ed] the
abilities (on a sustained basis) to understand, carry out, and remember
simple instructions; respond appropriately to supervision, coworkers, and
Specific reference to 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3) is unnecessary because judicial review
under that section is identical to review under section 405(g).
usual work situations; and deal with changes in a routine work setting.”4
(Tr. at 30.) Among other arguments, Sheffield contends that the residual
functional capacity (RFC) determination is not supported by substantial
evidence5 because the ALJ failed to include any stress limitations. (See
Dkt. No. 12 at 11.)
Sheffield is correct in that the RFC does not include any stress
limitations. (See Tr. at 30.) However, several medical and non-medical
sources have found that Sheffield does indeed experience limitations in his
ability to handle stress. For example, in March 2009, Mary Ann Moore, the
state agency consultative examining psychologist, found that Sheffield
“appear[ed] to have difficulty in dealing with stress. With stress, he
bec[ame] easily overwhelmed and exhibit[ed] anxiety and depression.” (Id.
at 532, 537.) Dr. Nobel, the state agency review psychiatrist, noted in April
2009, that Sheffield “d[id] have some difficulty modulating stress. Under
stressful conditions he can become overwhelmed, impulsive and make
poor decisions.” (Id. at 539.) Sheffield’s teacher, Kelly Davies, similarly
The ALJ also found that Sheffield retained the ability “to perform a full range of work at
all exertional levels.” (Tr. at 30.) Sheffield does not challenge the ALJ’s exertional findings.
“Substantial evidence is defined as more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept to support a conclusion.” Alston v. Sullivan, 904
F.2d 122, 126 (2d Cir. 1990) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).
noted that he “ha[d] a hard time staying on task when he [wa]s frustrated.”
(Id. at 401.)
Sheffield and his mother also both testified that he has difficulties
dealing with stress. For example, Sheffield stated that he did not finish his
cosmetology class at BOCES because “the stress for [him] was just getting
too much.” (Id. at 567.) Sheffield’s mother stated that “he really gets
stressed out if he gets a lot of responsibility and he can loose [sic] his
temper at times and he does have problems listening to directions.” (Id. at
574.) She further testified that Sheffield has “a problem with anger also
when he’s over stressed with things.” (Id. at 576.)
SSR 85-15 emphasizes the need to carefully evaluate a claimant’s
ability to deal with stress in the workplace. See SSR 85-15, 1985 WL
56857, at * 5-6 (1985). While Sheffield’s limitations regarding stress may
not be debilitating, the ALJ’s failure to discuss why no stress limitations
were included in the RFC, in light of the above cited evidence, necessitates
remand. See Ferraris v. Heckler, 728 F.2d 582, 587 (2d Cir. 1984)
(requiring the Commissioner to set forth “the crucial factors in [his]
determination . . . with sufficient specificity to enable [the court] to decide
whether the determination is supported by substantial evidence.”) (internal
Accordingly, the court finds that the ALJ failed to adequately evaluate
Sheffield’s ability to handle stress in making his RFC determination.
Because Sheffield’s remaining contentions may be impacted by the
subsequent proceedings directed by this Order, it would be improper for
the court to consider them at this juncture.
WHEREFORE, for the foregoing reasons, it is hereby
ORDERED that the decision of the Commissioner is REVERSED and
REMANDED pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for
proceedings consistent with this Memorandum-Decision and Order; and it
ORDERED that the Clerk close this case and provide a copy of this
Memorandum-Decision and Order to the parties.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
November 28, 2012
Albany, New York
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