The opinion of the court was delivered by: William M. Skretny Chief Judge United States District Court
1. Plaintiff Kathryn M. Leavitt challenges an Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ") determination that she is not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act ("the Act"). Plaintiff alleges that she has been disabled since January 1, 2005, due to back, neck, and right knee pain.*fn1 Plaintiff contends that because her impairments render her unable to work, she is entitled to disability benefits under the Act.
2. Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") on January 10, 2005. (R. at 80-82.) Her application was denied initially, after which she requested a hearing before an ALJ. That hearing took place on May 18, 2007. The ALJ considered Plaintiff's case de novo, and on January 28, 2008, issued a written decision denying Plaintiff's application for benefits. (R. at 16-30.) On September 8, 2008, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (R. at 3-5.) Plaintiff filed the current civil action challenging Defendant's final decision on October 2, 2008.*fn2
3. The parties subsequently filed Motions for Judgment on the Pleadings.*fn3 After full briefing, this Court deemed oral argument unnecessary and took the motions under advisement on May 6, 2009. For the following reasons, Defendant's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings is granted and Plaintiff's Motion 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 her 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 January 1, 2005, the alleged onset of disability date, except in September and December 2006 (R. at 20); (2) Plaintiff's impairments are "severe" within the meaning of the Act (R. at 20-21)*fn4 ; (3) Plaintiff's impairments do not meet or equal in severity, the criteria specified for any impairment listed in Appendix 1, Subpart P, Regulation No. 4 (R. at 21-25); (4) Plaintiff retains the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform the full range of unskilled sedentary exertion work (R. at 25-29); and (5) based on her age, education, past relevant work experience, and residual functional capacity, Plaintiff is capable of performing work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy. (R. at 29-30). Ultimately, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not under a disability as defined by the Act at any time from March 20, 2003 through the date of the ALJ's decision. (R. at 30.)
10. Plaintiff advances four challenges to the ALJ's decision.First, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in according inadequate weight to the opinions of her treating physician, William N. Capicotto, M.D., who opined that she be limited to sedentary exertional work, but would need to change positions frequently and would be limited to four-hour shifts. (Docket No. 6, p. 5.) Plaintiff therefore argues that this case must be remanded so that Dr. Capicotto's opinion can be properly weighed. (Id. p. 6.)
According to the "treating physician rule,"*fn5 the ALJ must give controlling weight to the treating physician's opinion when the opinion 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); see also Green-Younger v. Barnhart, No. 02 Civ. 6133, 2003 WL 21545097, at *6 (2d Cir. July 10, 2003); Shaw v. Chater, 221 F.3d 126, 134 (2d Cir. 2000). Although the Commissioner must "always give good reasons  for the weight [ascribed to the] treating source's opinion," 20 C.F.R ...