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Ashlie Jane Emery v. Michael J. Astrue

October 15, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: John M. Conroy United States Magistrate Judge


(Docs. 8, 11)

Plaintiff Ashlie Emery brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the Social Security Act, requesting review and remand of the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying her applications for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental security income ("SSI"). Pending before the Court are Emery's Motion for Order Reversing the Commissioner's Decision (Doc. 8) and the Commissioner's Motion for Order Affirming the Commissioner's Decision (Doc. 11). For the reasons stated below, the Court DENIES Plaintiff's Motion, and GRANTS the Commissioner's Motion.


Emery was twenty-four years old on the alleged disability onset date of May 18, 2009. (AR 37, 152.) She completed high school and has taken online college courses in pursuit of an associate's degree in business. (AR 40, 233.) She has held positions as a fast-food worker, a crew chief at a McDonald's restaurant, and a dietary aide at a nursing home. (AR 41, 223.)

In July and September 2009, respectively, Emery filed DIB and SSI applications. (AR 147, 152.) In support of her DIB application, Emery asserts that, beginning on September 1, 2008, she has been unable to work due to anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder ("PTSD"), obsessive compulsive disorder, insomnia, migraine headaches, nausea, irritable bowel syndrome ("IBS"), and carpal tunnel syndrome, among other ailments. (AR 52, 222.) Emery's application was denied initially and on reconsideration. (AR65-92.) On February 14, 2011, Emery amended her alleged disability onset date to May 18, 2009. (AR 282.)

On February 15, 2011, Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Robert Klingebiel conducted a hearing on Emery's application. (AR 33-64.) At the hearing, Emery was represented by counsel and testified on her own behalf. (AR 35.) On March 16, 2011, the ALJ issued a decision finding Emery not disabled under the Social Security Act. (AR 15-27.) The Appeals Council subsequently denied Emery's request for review. (AR 1-3.) Having exhausted her administrative remedies, Emery filed a Complaint in this action on October 14, 2011. (See Doc. 3.)

ALJ Determination

The Commissioner uses a five-step sequential process to evaluate disability claims. See Butts v. Barnhart, 388 F.3d 377, 380-81 (2d Cir. 2004). The first step requires the ALJ to determine whether the claimant is presently engaging in "substantial gainful activity" ("SGA"). 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b). If the claimant is not so engaged, step two requires the ALJ to determine whether the claimant has a "severe impairment." 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). If the ALJ finds that the claimant has a severe impairment, the third step requires the ALJ to make a determination as to whether the claimant's impairment "meets or equals" an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 ("the Listings"). 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d). The claimant is presumptively disabled if the impairment meets or equals a listed impairment. Ferraris v. Heckler, 728 F.2d 582, 584 (2d Cir. 1984).

If the claimant is not presumptively disabled, the fourth step requires the ALJ to consider whether the claimant's residual functional capacity ("RFC") precludes the performance of his or her past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(f), 416.920(f). The fifth and final step commands that the ALJ determine whether the claimant can do "any other work." 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g), 416.920(g). The claimant bears the burden of proving his or her case at steps one through four, Butts, 388 F.3d at 383; and at step five, there is a "limited burden shift to the Commissioner" to "show that there is work in the national economy that the claimant can do," Poupore v. Astrue, 566 F.3d 303, 306 (2d Cir. 2009) (clarifying that the burden shift to the Commissioner at step five is limited, and the Commissioner "need not provide additional evidence of the claimant's [RFC]").

Employing this sequential analysis, the ALJ first determined that Emery had not engaged in SGA since her alleged disability onset date. (AR 18.) Next, the ALJ found that Emery had the severe impairments of bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, fibromyalgia, IBS, and obesity. (Id.) The ALJ found, however, that Emery's carpal tunnel syndrome and asthma were not severe impairments. (AR 19.) Proceeding to step three, the ALJ found that Emery did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled a listed impairment. (Id.) The ALJ then determined that Emery had the RFC to perform "medium work," so long as she was limited to "simple instructions and tasks," had "the ability to periodically alternate sitting and standing," and "avoid[ed] waiting on the public." (AR 21.) Finally, after noting that she had no past relevant work, the ALJ determined that there were jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy that Emery could perform based on her age, education, work experience, and RFC. (AR 25.) Thus, the ALJ concluded that Emery had not been under a disability since her alleged disability onset date of May 18, 2009. (AR 26.)

Standard of Review

The Social Security Act defines the term "disability" as the "inability to engage in any SGA by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). A person will be found disabled only if it is determined that his "impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work[,] but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A).

In reviewing a Commissioner's disability decision, the court limits its inquiry to a "review [of] the administrative record de novo to determine whether there is substantial evidence supporting the . . . decision and whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standard." Machadio v. Apfel, 276 F.3d 103, 108 (2d Cir. 2002) (citing Shaw v. Chater, 221 F.3d 126, 131 (2d Cir. 2000)); see 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). A court's factual review of the Commissioner's decision is restricted to determining whether "substantial evidence" exists in the record to support such decision. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Rivera v. Sullivan, 923 F.2d 964, 967 (2d Cir. 1991). "Substantial evidence" is 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); Consol. Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938); Poupore, 566 F.3d at 305.

Although the reviewing court's role in reviewing the Commissioner's disability decision is "quite limited[,] and substantial deference is to be afforded [that] decision," Hernandez v. Barnhart, No. 05-9586, 2007 WL 2710388, at *7 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 18, 2007) (internal quotation marks omitted), the Social Security Act "must be construed liberally because it is a remedial statute that is intended to include, rather than exclude, potential recipients of benefits," Jones v. Apfel,66 F. Supp. 2d 518, 522 (S.D.N.Y. 1999); Dousewicz v. Harris, 646 F.2d 771, 773 (2d Cir. 1981) ("In its deliberations the District Court should consider the fact that the Social Security Act is a remedial statute to be broadly construed and liberally applied.").


I. Credibility ...

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