Snyder v. Colvin
DECISION AND ORDER denying 11 Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings; granting 12 Commissioner's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings; and dismissing the complaint in its entirety with prejudice. Signed by Hon. Michael A. Telesca on 3/7/17.(Clerk to close case.) (JMC)-CLERK TO FOLLOW UP-
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
JOYCE L. SNYDER,
-vsNANCY A. BERRYHILL,
Acting Commissioner of Social Security,1
Plaintiff Joyce L. Snyder (“plaintiff”) brings this action
pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act (“The Act”),
seeking review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social
supplemental security income (“SSI”).
Presently before the Court are the parties’ competing motions
for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal
Rules of Civil Procedure.
For the reasons set forth below,
plaintiff’s motion is denied and defendant’s motion is granted.
Nancy A. Berryhill replaced Carolyn W. Colvin as Acting Commissioner of Social
Security on January 23, 2017. The Clerk of the Court is instructed to amend the
caption of this case pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 25(d) to reflect
the substitution of Acting Commissioner Berryhill as the defendant in this
February 15, 2012.
Administrative Transcript (“T.”) 166-178.
Following the denial of those applications, a hearing was held at
plaintiff’s request on August 6, 2014, before administrative law
judge ("ALJ") F. Patrick Flanagan, at which testimony was given by
plaintiff and vocational expert (“VE”) Linda N. Vause. T. 39-83.
The ALJ issued a decision dated December 24, 2014, in which he
determined that plaintiff was not disabled as defined in the Act.
In applying the required five-step sequential analysis, as
contained in the administrative regulations promulgated by the
Social Security Administration ("SSA") (see 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520,
416.920; Lynch v. Astrue, 2008 WL 3413899, at *2 (W.D.N.Y. 2008)
(detailing the five steps)), the ALJ made the following findings,
among others: (1) plaintiff met the insured status requirements of
the Act through March 31, 2012; (2) plaintiff had not engaged in
(3) plaintiff’s history of mitral valve prolapse, history of
possible transient ischemic attack, low back pain, carpal tunnel
syndrome, hyperlipidemia, depressive disorder, and anxiety disorder
were severe impairments; (4) plaintiff’s impairments did not meet
or medically equal one of the listed impairments set forth in
20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1; (5) plaintiff had the
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to “perform less than the full
416.967(b)” with the following limitations: lift and carry up to
20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; sit for six hours
in an eight-hour workday; stand/walk for six hours in an eight-hour
workday; reach, handle, and finger frequently with both hands;
instructions; carry out simple and complex tasks if there are no
schedule and accept instructions from supervisors, but would do
best with work not requiring more than occasional interaction with
supervisors, coworkers, or the public; and low-stress work, defined
as that requiring no negotiation, conflict resolution, or more than
occasional decision-making; (6) plaintiff was unable to perform any
past relevant work; and (7) considering plaintiff’s age, education,
work experience, and RFC, there are jobs that exist in significant
numbers in the national economy that plaintiff could perform.
The ALJ’s decision became the final determination of the
Commission on February 24, 2016, when the Appeals Council denied
plaintiff’s request for review.
filed the instant action.
General Legal Principles
42 U.S.C. § 405(g) grants jurisdiction to district courts to
hear claims based on the denial of Social Security benefits.
Section 405(g) provides that the District Court “shall have the
power to enter, upon the pleadings and transcript of the record, a
judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding the
cause for a rehearing.”
42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2007).
directs that when considering such a claim, the Court must accept
the findings of fact made by the Commissioner, provided that such
findings are supported by “substantial evidence” in the record. 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).
supported by substantial evidence, the Court's task is “‘to examine
the entire record, including contradictory evidence and evidence
from which conflicting inferences can be drawn.’” Brown v. Apfel,
174 F.3d 59, 62 (2d Cir. 1999), quoting Mongeur v. Heckler, 722
F.2d 1033, 1038 (2d Cir. 1983).
Section 405(g) limits the scope of
the Court’s review to two inquiries: whether the Commissioner’s
findings were supported by substantial evidence in the record as a
whole and whether the Commissioner’s conclusions were based upon
the correct legal standard. See Green–Younger v. Barnhart, 335 F.3d
99, 105–106 (2d Cir.2003).
A. Relevant medical evidence.
Plaintiff’s sole argument in this action is that the ALJ’s
general public was based on his own lay opinion and not supported
by the record.
Plaintiff has raised no issues related to the
physical limitations set forth in the RFC.
As a result, medical
evidence related to those physical limitations is not summarized
underwent a consultative psychiatric examination with Dr. Kavitha
Finnity, Ph.D. T. 367-370. Dr. Finnity noted current medications
ibuprofen, velafaxine, and cyclobenzaprine.
reported frequent waking, loss of appetite, depressive symptoms
(including dysphoric mood, crying, loss of energy, and social
cognitive deficits of short-term memory loss and difficulty with
examination, plaintiff demonstrated appropriate eye contact, normal
posture and motor behavior, fluent speech intelligibility, adequate
expressive and receptive language, coherent and goal directed
thought processes, depressed affect, neutral mood, clear sensorium,
intact attention and concentration, intact recent and remote memory
Dr. Finnity opined that plaintiff could
follow and understand directions and perform simple tasks, maintain
supervision, and make appropriate decisions.
further opined that plaintiff had difficult with attention and
concentration, as well as “difficulty relating with others and
dealing with stress due to psychiatric symptoms.” Id. Dr. Finnity
disorder, NOS; heart disease; history of stroke; tendinitis; carpal
tunnel syndrome; migraines; chronic pain; and high cholesterol.
Also on January 17, 2013, plaintiff underwent a consultative
internal medicine examination by Dr. Donna Miller, D.O. T. 371-75.
migraine headaches on average four to five times per month, and
stated that her migraines were triggered by stress.
physician Dr. M. Apacible, M.D., performed both a psychiatric
review technique assessment and a medical residual functional
capacity assessment of plaintiff’s medical record.
T. 95-96; 99-
Dr. Apacible opined that plaintiff had mild limitations with
activities of daily living, moderate limitations with maintaining
concentration, persistence, or pace.
further opined that plaintiff was moderately limited regarding her
abilities to: understand and remember detailed instructions; carry
out detailed instructions; maintain attention and concentration for
extended periods; complete a normal workday and workweek without
interruptions from psychologically based symptoms; perform at a
consistent pace without an unreasonable number and length of rest
periods; accept instructions and respond appropriately to criticism
appropriately to changes in the work setting; set realistic goals;
and make plans independently of others.
Dr. Apacible opined that plaintiff was capable of performing simple
On July 19, 2013, plaintiff underwent a psychiatric evaluation
by nurse practitioner (“NP”) Kathe Klein at Wayne Behavioral
Behavioral Network as the result of an incident in which she was
drinking alcohol with her fiancé and her daughter and became angry
and started breaking things, resulting in the police being called.
Plaintiff reported anger issues, mood swings (which she
fatigue, and difficulty sleeping.
Plaintiff further reported
having been a victim of childhood abuse and domestic violence, and
stated that she had been told in 2009 that she had post-traumatic
stress disorder (“PTSD”) and bipolar disorder.
management group was recommended for plaintiff, put she declined to
Plaintiff denied any problems with anxiety or panic.
Id. Plaintiff’s current medications were flexeril, ibuprofen, ASA,
omeprazole, and pravastatin.
Plaintiff reported that she had
been drinking alcohol daily until one month prior.
T. 415. On
mental status examination, plaintiff was cooperative and exhibited
fair eye contact, unremarkable motor activity, normal rate and tone
of speech, angry mood with congruent affect, organized thought
processes, intact cognition, and impaired insight and judgment.
NP Klein assessed plaintiff with mood disorder NOS, PTSD by
history, and alcohol dependence.
Dr. Rebecca Wadsworth, M.D., and treating physician’s assistant
(“PA”) Michael Wittek jointly completed a medical examination for
employability form related to plaintiff. T. 683-84. Dr. Wadsworth
and PA Wittek noted the following medical conditions: TIA, single
medication; and hyperlipidemia, “good control” with medication.
Dr. Wadsworth and PA Wittek opined that plaintiff was
instructions; carrying out instructions; maintaining attention and
concentration; and maintaining basic standards of personal hygiene
On February 4, 2014, licensed clinical social worker (“LCSW”)
Ellen Ersteniuk of Wayne Behavioral Health Network completed a
psychiatric report for employment regarding plaintiff.
starting in December 2013 and assessed plaintiff with depressive
LCSW Ersteniuk opined that plaintiff was not
capable of working in any capacity at that time.
On February 7, 2014, LCSW Ersteniuk completed a mental health
assessment for plaintiff.
medications were aspirin, protonix, pravastatin, multi-vitamin,
flexeril, and ibuprofen.
Plaintiff reported having
relationships, plaintiff reported having “friends and no problems.”
On mental status examination, plaintiff was cooperative,
her affect was appropriate, her mood was anxious, her speech was
spontaneous, and her thought form was focused. Id.
orientation was intact, her memory and concentration were impaired,
and her insight and judgment were limited.
GAF score of 70.
Plaintiff had a
B. Non-medical evidence.
During the August 6, 2014 hearing, plaintiff testified that
she was 41 years old and had been married for approximately one
Plaintiff had approximately 32 jobs over the
course of 15 years, and testified that she switched jobs frequently
because she “had problems and they were part-time.”
most significant employment history was as a truck driver.
Plaintiff reported suffering from a lack of memory.
She further reported having difficulty talking to other people
without become upset and angry.
Plaintiff told the ALJ
that she did not have a good relationship with her daughter and
that the police had told them to “stay away from one another.”
In her motion, plaintiff contends that the Commissioner’s
decision was not supported by substantial evidence.
In support of
that contention she makes only one argument - namely, that “the ALJ
relied on his own lay opinion to interpret Dr. Finnity’s vague
opinion that Plaintiff has ‘difficulty relating with others and
dealing with stress.’” (Docket No. 11-1 at 14).
This argument is
It is true that an “ALJ cannot arbitrarily substitute his own
judgment for a competent medical opinion.”
F.3d 72, 79 (2d Cir. 1999).
Rosa v. Callahan, 168
“the ALJ’s RFC finding need
not track any one medical opinion.”
O’Neil v. Colvin, 2014 WL
5500662, at *6 (W.D.N.Y. Oct. 30, 2014).
“Although [an] ALJ’s
conclusion may not perfectly correspond with any of the opinions of
medical sources cited in his decision, he [is] entitled to weigh
all of the evidence available to make an RFC finding that [is]
consistent with the record as a whole.”
Matta v. Astrue, 508 Fed.
Appx. 53, 56 (2d Cir. 2013).
In this case, the record as a whole amply supports the ALJ’s
conclusion that plaintiff was best-suited to low-stress work and
Plaintiff has difficult relating with others and dealing with
migraines may be exacerbated by stress; Dr. Apacible’s opinion that
distracting them or exhibiting behavioral extremes, and to respond
appropriately to changes in the work setting; Dr. Wadsworth’s and
PA Wittek’s opinion that plaintiff is moderately limited in her
abilities to remember and carry out instructions and to maintain
Ersteniuk that she has friends and no problems with interpersonal
relationships; and plaintiff’s hearing testimony that she has
difficulty speaking to other people without becoming upset and
It was the ALJ’s duty to assess this evidence (and the
other evidence in the record) as a whole, and to reconcile any
In light of the evidence of record, the Court
finds that the ALJ’s conclusion that plaintiff would do best in
interaction was reasonable and supported by substantial evidence.
(2d Cir. 2013) and Curry v. Apfel, 209 F.3d 117(2d Cir. 2000) is
Selian and Curry do not prohibit an ALJ from relying on
a medical opinion simply because it uses terms such as “mild” and
See, e.g., Lewis v. Colvin, 548 Fed. Appx. 675, 667
(2d Cir. 2013) (medical opinion that the plaintiff had “mild
limitations for prolonged sitting, standing, and walking” and
should avoid “heavy lifting and carrying” supported determination
that the plaintiff could perform light work); Collier v. Colvin,
2016 WL 4400313, at *3 (W.D.N.Y. Aug. 17, 2016) (medical opinion
imposing “moderate” limitations was not “so vague as to render it
examination) (internal quotations omitted).
In this case, as in
Collier, Dr. Finnity’s statement was supported by a physical
examination of plaintiff, during which she was cooperative, had an
adequate manner of relating, and showed fair insight and judgment.
In addition, plaintiff told Dr. Finnity that she was
able to socialize and had a good relationship with her family.
Dr. Finnity’s assessment in determining plaintiff’s RFC.
contention that the Commissioner’s decision was not supported by
Upon its review of the record in its
entirety, this Court finds that the record contains substantial
evidence to support the ALJ’s determination.
For the foregoing reasons, the defendant’s cross-motion for
plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings (Docket No. 11) is
denied. The complaint is dismissed in its entirety with prejudice.
ALL OF THE ABOVE IS SO ORDERED.
S/ MICHAEL A. TELESCA
HONORABLE MICHAEL A. TELESCA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
DATED: Rochester, New York
March 7, 2017
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