The opinion of the court was delivered by: William M. Skretny United States District Judge
1. Plaintiff William G. Piekarski challenges an Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ") determination that he is not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act ("the Act"). Plaintiff alleges that he has been disabled since April 30, 2001, due to polysubstance dependence, major depression, anxiety, and back problems. (R. at 29.) Plaintiff contends that because his impairments render him unable to work, he is entitled to disability benefits under the Act.
2. Plaintiff filed an application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") on March 14, 2002. His application was denied initially, after which he requested a hearing before an ALJ. That hearing took place on March 29, 2005. The ALJ considered Plaintiff's case de novo, and on February 2, 2007, issued a written decision denying Plaintiff's application for benefits. (R. at 28-42.) On May 9, 2008, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (R. at 9-11.) Plaintiff filed the current civil action challenging Defendant's final decision on May 22, 2008.*fn1
3. The parties subsequently filed Motions for Judgment on the Pleadings.*fn2 After full briefing, this Court deemed oral argument unnecessary and took the motions under advisement on January 14, 2009. For the following reasons, Defendant's motion is granted and Plaintiff's is denied.
4. A court reviewing a denial of disability benefits may not determine de novo whether an individual is disabled. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3); Wagner v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 906 F.2d 856, 860 (2d Cir. 1990). Rather, the Commissioner's determination will be reversed only if it is not supported by substantial evidence or there has been a legal error. See Grey v. Heckler, 721 F.2d 41, 46 (2d Cir. 1983); Marcus v. Califano, 615 F.2d 23, 27 (2d Cir. 1979). Substantial evidence is that which amounts to "more than a mere scintilla," and it has been defined as "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 1427, 28 L.Ed. 2d 842 (1971). Where evidence is deemed susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the Commissioner's conclusion must be upheld. See Rutherford v. Schweiker, 685 F.2d 60, 62 (2d Cir. 1982).
5. "To determine on appeal whether the 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." Williams on Behalf of Williams v. Bowen, 859 F.2d 255, 258 (2d Cir. 1988). If supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's finding must be sustained "even where substantial evidence may support the plaintiff's position and despite that the court's independent analysis of the evidence may differ from the [Commissioner's]." Rosado v. Sullivan, 805 F. Supp. 147, 153 (S.D.N.Y. 1992). In other words, this Court must afford the Commissioner's determination considerable deference, and will not substitute "its own judgment for that of the [Commissioner], even if it might justifiably have reached a different result upon a de novo review." Valente v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 733 F.2d 1037, 1041 (2d Cir. 1984).
6. The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential evaluation process to determine whether an individual is disabled under the Act. See 20 C.F.R. § § 404.1520, 416.920. The United States Supreme Court recognized the validity of this analysis in Bowen v. Yuckert, and it remains the proper approach for analyzing whether a claimant is disabled. 482 U.S. 137, 140-42, 107 S.Ct. 2287, 2291, 96 L.Ed. 2d 119 (1987).
7. This five-step process is detailed below:
First, the [Commissioner] considers whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity. If he is not, the [Commissioner] next considers whether the claimant has a "severe impairment" which significantly limits his physical or mental ability to do basic work activities. If the claimant suffers such an impairment, the third inquiry is whether, based solely on medical evidence, the claimant has an impairment which is listed in Appendix 1 of the regulations. If the claimant has such an impairment, the [Commissioner] will consider him disabled without considering vocational factors such as age, education, and work experience; the [Commissioner] presumes that a claimant who is afflicted with a "listed" impairment is unable to perform substantial gainful activity. Assuming the claimant does not have a listed impairment, the fourth inquiry is whether, despite the claimant's severe impairment, he has the residual functional capacity to perform his past work. Finally, if the claimant is unable to perform his past work, the [Commissioner] then determines whether there is other work which the claimant could perform.
Berry v. Schweiker, 675 F.2d 464, 467 (2d Cir. 1982) (per curiam) (quotations in original); see also Rosa v. Callahan, 168 F.3d 72, 77 (2d Cir. 1999); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520.
8. Although the claimant has the burden of proof on the first four steps, the Commissioner has the burden of proof on the fifth and final step. See Bowen, 482 U.S. at 146 n.5; Ferraris v. Heckler, 728 F.2d 582, 584 (2d Cir. 1984). The final step is divided into two parts: First, the Commissioner must assess the claimant's job qualifications by considering his physical ability, age, education and work experience. Second, the Commissioner must determine whether jobs exist in the national economy that a person having the claimant's qualifications could perform. See 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f); Heckler v. Campbell, 461 U.S. 458, 460, 103 S.Ct. 1952, 1954, 76 L.Ed. 2d 66 (1983).
9. In this case, the ALJ made the following findings with regard to the five-step process set forth above: (1) Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 30, 2001 (R. at 29); (2) Plaintiff's polysubstance dependence, major depression, anxiety, and back problems are "severe" impairments within the meaning of the Act (R. at 29); (3) Plaintiff's mental impairments do not meet or medically equal any of the impairments listed in Appendix 1, Subpart P, Regulation No. 4 (R. at 29); (4) Plaintiff retains the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform a significant range of light work with certain restrictions (R. at 37-38, 41*fn3 ); and (5) although Plaintiff is unable to perform his past relevant work, based on his age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, Plaintiff is capable of performing a significant range of light work. (R. at 39-41). Ultimately, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not under a disability as defined by the Act at any time through the date of the ALJ's decision. (R. at 40.)
10. Plaintiff advances two challenges to the ALJ's decision. First, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred by failing to re-contact Dr. David Kupkowski, Plaintiff's primary care physician. (Pl.'s Mem., pp. 6-7.*fn4 ) In her decision, the ALJ adopted Dr. Kupkowski's opinion "in large measure," but rejected his opinion to the extent it concluded that Plaintiff's back pain "occasionally impair[ed] and/or preclud[ed] performance of even simple work tasks." (Id., p. 7; R. at 37.) Plaintiff contends that the ALJ should have re-contacted Dr. Kupkowski "to ask him if his opinion was or was not based on medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques." (Pl.'s Mem., p. 6.)
Recontacting medical providers is necessary when the ALJ cannot make a disability determination based on the evidence of record. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1512(e). Additional evidence or clarification is sought if there is a conflict or ambiguity that must be resolved, when the medical reports lack necessary information, or when the reports are not based on medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1512(e)(1); Rosa v. Callahan, 168 F.3d 72, 80 (2d Cir. 1999); Schaal v. Apfel, 134 F.3d 496, 505 (2d Cir. 1998). But the ALJ is not prevented from making a disability determination if "the evidence..., including any medical opinion(s), is inconsistent with other evidence or is internally ...