Plaintiff commenced this action seeking judicial review of a decision by the Commissioner of Social Security denying disability insurance benefits ("DIB"). Plaintiff requests that this Court reverse the decision and remand to the Administrative Law Judge to further develop the record. The Commissioner seeks to affirm the decision. This Court has jurisdiction to review an unfavorable decision of the Commissioner under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). For the reasons laid out below, the Court reverses and remands this case for further consideration.
Plaintiff filed for DIB on August 5, 2003, alleging disability as of January 21, 2003. Tr. at 44-46.*fn1 This application was denied, and Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). Tr. at 26-31. A hearing was held on December 8, 2004, and on January 14, 2005, the ALJ issued a decision which found Plaintiff not disabled. Id. at 10-23, 338-403. This decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied review on August 26, 2005. Id. at 5-8. This action followed.
Plaintiff contends that the Commissioner's decision is not supported by substantial evidence.
He claims that the ALJ erroneously (1) disregarded the opinions of Plaintiff's treating physician; (2) improperly evaluated Plaintiff's non-exertional impairments and misapplied the Medical-Vocational Guidelines, 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2, or "grids"; and (3) failed to properly evaluate Plaintiff's credibility. Pl.'s Br., at 7-22 (Dkt. No. 8). The Commissioner counters that substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision. Def.'s Br., at 5-13 (Dkt. No. 10).
The evidence in this case is undisputed and the court adopts the parties' factual recitations.
Pl.'s Br. at 1-9; Def.'s Br. at 2-8.
A. Standards and Scope of Review
When reviewing the Commissioner's final decision under 42 U.S.C. 405(g),*fn2 the court "must determine whether the correct legal standards were applied and whether substantial evidence supports the decision." Butts v. Barnhart, 388 F.3d 377, 384 (2d Cir. 2004) (citation omitted). It does not determine de novo whether a claimant is disabled. SeeCurry v. Apfel, 209 F.3d 117, 122 (2d Cir. 2000) (citation omitted). Although the Commissioner is ultimately responsible for determining a claimant's eligibility, the actual disability determination is made by an ALJ, and that decision is subject to judicial review on appeal. A court may not affirm an ALJ's decision if it reasonably doubts whether the proper legal standards were applied, even if it appears to be supported by substantial evidence. SeePollard v. Halter, 377 F.3d 183, 188-89 (2d Cir. 2004) (citation omitted); Johnson v. Bowen, 817 F.2d 983, 986 (2d Cir. 1987). "Failure to apply the correct legal standards is grounds for reversal." Pollard, 377 F.3d at 189 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).
A court's factual review of the Commissioner's decision is limited to the determination of whether substantial evidence in the record supports the decision. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); see also Rivera v. Sullivan, 923 F.2d 964, 967 (2d Cir. 1991). "Substantial evidence . . . means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Schaal v. Apfel, 134 F.3d 496, 501 (2d Cir. 1998) (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)) (internal quotation marks omitted). It must be "more than a mere scintilla" of evidence scattered throughout the administrative record. Williams ex rel. Williams v. Bowen, 859 F.2d 255, 258 (2d Cir. 1988) (citations omitted). An ALJ must set forth the crucial factors justifying his findings with sufficient specificity to allow a court to determine whether substantial evidence supports the decision. SeeFerraris v. Heckler, 728 F.2d 582, 587 (2d Cir. 1984). "To determine on appeal whether an ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence, a reviewing court considers the whole record, examining the evidence from both sides, because an analysis of the substantiality of the evidence must also include that which detracts from its weight." ...