The Social Security Act provides that "the findings of the Secretary as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive." 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence denotes evidence which "'a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'" Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 28 L. Ed. 2d 842, 91 S. Ct. 1420 (1971) (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229, 83 L. Ed. 126, 59 S. Ct. 206 (1938)). "Where there is substantial evidence to support either position, the determination is one to be made by the factfinder [i.e., the Secretary]." Alston v. Sullivan, 904 F.2d 122, 126 (2d Cir. 1990). Based on the record in this case, this court must affirm the Secretary's decision to deny plaintiff's application for benefits.
Although plaintiff's doctors had checked off that plaintiff was disabled on forms sent to the Workers' Compensation Board, the standards which regulate workers' compensation relief are different from the requirements which govern the award of disability insurance benefits under the Act. Accordingly, an opinion rendered for purposes of workers' compensation is not binding on the Secretary. See Coria v. Heckler, 750 F.2d 245, 247 (3d Cir. 1984) "We believe the ALJ could reasonably disregard so much of the physicians' reports as set forth their conclusions as to Coria's disability for worker's compensation purposes.").
Furthermore, under the Secretary's regulations, which the court must follow, Schisler v. Sullivan, 3 F.3d 563 (2d Cir. 1993), the opinion of a plaintiff's treating physician is controlling only if it is "well-supported by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques and is not inconsistent with the other substantial evidence in [the] . . . record." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(d)(2). Aside from the issue whether plaintiff's physicians' opinions are well-supported vel non, in light of the negative MRI and lumbar x-rays, among other things, the record contains substantial evidence contrary to plaintiff's claims. Thus, the opinions expressed by plaintiff's physicians as to plaintiff's condition cannot be deemed conclusive as a matter of law.
When a physician's opinion is not controlling, the Secretary considers various factors to weigh the evidence: the length and nature of the treatment relationship, the evidence presented to support an opinion, the consistency an opinion has with the record as a whole, and the extent the physician offered an opinion in an area in which he/she has specialized. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(d). Under these standards, the Secretary was well within her discretion to deny plaintiff's application. "The conclusive effect of the substantial evidence rule applies not only with respect to the Secretary's findings as to basic evidentiary facts, but also to inferences and conclusions drawn therefrom." Rodriguez v. Califano, 431 F. Supp. 421, 423 (S.D.N.Y. 1977).
The ALJ, who observed plaintiff's demeanor, had the discretion to evaluate plaintiff's credibility and to determine, in light of the evidence in the record, the true extent of any pain alleged by plaintiff. Serra v. Sullivan, 762 F. Supp. 1030, 1034 (W.D.N.Y. 1991). The Secretary was not obligated to accept plaintiff's subjective testimony without question. Misuraca v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 562 F. Supp. 243, 245 (E.D.N.Y. 1983).
In this case, the Secretary exercised her discretion and found that "the claimant's testimony regarding the nature and extent of his pain and functional limitations was not credible." Tr. 14. The Secretary ruled that based on plaintiff's capacity to perform light work and his age, as well as his education and work experience, the plaintiff was not disabled pursuant to Rule 202.16 of the Grids. Plaintiff contends that he was limited to sedentary work, and thus should be found disabled under Rule 201.17. The Secretary has defined light work as lifting no more than 20 pounds at a time with frequent lifting of 10 pounds. This work also involves a good deal of walking or standing, or pushing or pulling of arm or leg controls while sitting. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b). Plaintiff has failed to show, however, that the Secretary erred when she did not credit his claims of pain, or when she found plaintiff capable of light work. In light of the evidence in the record opposed to plaintiff's claims, especially the negative MRI and x-rays, as well as the findings made even by his own physician that plaintiff's paravertebral muscle spasms were moderate, this court holds, based on a review of the entire record, that the Secretary's findings were supported by substantial evidence.
Accordingly, the court grants the government's motion for judgment on the pleadings, and dismisses this case.
Dated: Brooklyn, New York
August 11, 1994
HONORABLE DAVID G. TRAGER
United States District Judge
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