Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Riordan v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, D. Vermont

December 12, 2016

Tracy Ann Riordan, Plaintiff,
Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          John M. Conroy United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Tracy Riordan 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 denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB). Pending before the Court are Riordan's motion to reverse the Commissioner's decision (Doc. 9), and the Commissioner's motion to affirm the same (Doc. 12). For the reasons stated below, Riordan's motion is DENIED; the Commissioner's motion is GRANTED; and the ALJ's decision is AFFIRMED.


         Riordan was 46 years old on her alleged disability onset date of May 23, 2012. She completed high school and attended one year of college, studying nursing. (AR 40- 41, 193.) She worked as a licensed nursing assistant (LNA) from approximately 1994 to 1997 and 2002 to 2012. (AR 42-44, 204-08, 210-11.) She also worked for approximately four years as a supervisor in the reservations department at Killington Call Center. (AR 44-45, 204, 209.) She lives with her husband in Rutland, Vermont. (AR 41.)

         In March 2014, Riordan testified that her most significant medical issue was back pain, which she has suffered from since 1997. (AR 45-46.) She stated that the pain radiates down her legs and into her feet, causing her legs to “go numb.” (AR 46.) In 1997, Riordan had surgery to address her back pain, but her symptoms persisted. (Id.) Riordan also has muscle pain “throughout [her] body” (AR 47) and particularized pain in her knees and ankles (AR 51, 54) and in her left wrist (AR 55).[1] To relieve her pain, Riordan does physical therapy and takes several medications, including oxycodone, Zanaflex, Lyrica, and tramadol. (AR 47.) These medications cause her to become “very tired” to the point of limiting her ability to function. (Id.) Riordan further testified that she suffers from mental impairments, including anxiety, depression, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), panic attacks, and insomnia. (AR 58-59.) To address these conditions, she takes Zoloft, Zyprexa, Xanax, Risperidone, clonidine, and Lunesta. (AR 59.) These medications have caused Riordan to gain weight, which has increased her back pain. (AR 50.)

         As a result of her impairments, [2] Riordan claims she can be on her feet for only 15-minute intervals throughout the day (AR 40); she cannot drive for more than about two miles (AR 41, 217); she has difficulty climbing stairs (AR 70); she is scared to be around large groups of people (AR 67); and she cannot focus (AR 71). On a typical day, she watches television, crochets (in 15-minute increments), does light housecleaning for short periods, cooks simple meals, and lies down for approximately five hours. (AR 60-61, 70, 214, 216, 224-25, 227, 232-33, 235.) In addition, she sees her grandchildren four or five times each week, shops in stores including grocery shopping with her husband once a week, and attends medical appointments. (AR 61, 214-15, 226, 234.)

         On August 8, 2012, Riordan filed her DIB application, alleging that, starting on May 23, 2012, she has been unable to work due to chronic back pain, degenerative disc disease, arthritis, PTSD, anxiety, depression, and insomnia. (AR 191-93.) In an updated disability form, Riordan stated that, since December 5, 2012, her depression, PTSD, and arthritis has worsened; and she has had trouble getting in and out of bed due to foot and ankle pain. (AR 247.) Riordan's application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, and she timely requested an administrative hearing. The hearing was held on March 7, 2014 by Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Paul Martin. (AR 35-79.) Riordan appeared and testified, and was represented by an attorney. A vocational expert (VE) also testified at the hearing. On May 13, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Riordan was not disabled under the Social Security Act at any time from her alleged disability onset date through the date of the decision. (AR 16-28.) Thereafter, the Appeals Council denied Riordan's request for review, rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (AR 1-4.) Having exhausted her administrative remedies, Riordan filed the Complaint in this action on November 19, 2015. (Doc. 3.)

         ALJ Decision

         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.” 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 that 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 his or her 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 ALJ is required to determine the claimant's residual functional capacity (RFC), which means the most the claimant can still do despite his or her mental and physical limitations based on all the relevant medical and other evidence in the record. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 404.1545(a)(1), 416.920(e), 416.945(a)(1). The fourth step requires the ALJ to consider whether the claimant's RFC precludes the performance of his or her past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(f), 416.920(f). Finally, at the fifth step, the ALJ determines 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, ALJ Martin first determined that Riordan had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged disability onset date of May 23, 2012. (AR 18.) At step two, the ALJ found that Riordan had the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease, osteoarthritis, anxiety-related disorder, and depression. (Id.) Conversely, the ALJ found that Riordan's GERD and left wrist pain were nonsevere. (Id.) At step three, the ALJ found that none of Riordan's impairments, alone or in combination, met or medically equaled a listed impairment. (AR 19-20.) Next, the ALJ determined that Riordan had the RFC to perform light work, as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b), except as follows:

[Riordan] can occasionally climb stairs and ramps; she must avoid climbing . . . ladders, ropes, and scaffolds. She can occasionally kneel, crouch, and crawl. [She] can understand, remember, and carry out simple [one- to three-]step tasks and maintain concentration for [two-]hour periods of time in an environment without fast-paced production requirements and involving routine workplace changes and tasks. She can engage . . . supervisors and coworkers in routine, occasional interactions. She can interact with the public on a superficial, occasional basis, defined as greetings with no extensive interactions. She must avoid large crowds or working around more than [eight-to-ten] people in close proximity.

(AR 20.) Given this RFC, the ALJ found that Riordan was unable to perform her past relevant work as a LNA, a LNA supervisor, and a reservations manager. (AR 26.) Finally, based on testimony from the VE, the ALJ determined that Riordan could perform other jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy, including the representative jobs of order caller, maid, and price marker. (AR 26-27.) The ALJ concluded that Riordan had not been under a disability from her alleged disability onset date of May 23, 2012 through the date of the decision. (AR 27-28.)

         Standard of Review

         The Social Security Act defines the term “disability” as the “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity 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 considering a Commissioner's disability decision, the court “review[s] 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). The court's factual review of the Commissioner's decision is thus limited 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); see Alston v. Sullivan, 904 F.2d 122, 126 (2d Cir. 1990) (“Where there is substantial evidence to support either position, the determination is one to be made by the factfinder.”). “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. ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.