The opinion of the court was delivered by: William M. Skretny Chief Judge United States District Court
1. Plaintiff Glen Alan Sweet 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 due to a series of ailments since June 1, 2005. Plaintiff contends that his impairments render him unable to work. He therefore asserts that he is entitled to supplemental security income ("SSI") and disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under the Act.
2. Plaintiff filed an application for SSI and DIB on November 27, 2006, alleging disability since June 1, 2005. The Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denied Plaintiff's initial application and denied it again on reconsideration, whereupon Plaintiff requested a hearing. An administrative hearing was held by video conference on June 10, 2009 before ALJ Ronald R. Bosch, at which Plaintiff testified. The ALJ considered the case de novo, and on July 16, 2009, issued a decision denying Plaintiff's application for benefits. Plaintiff filed a request for review with the Appeals Council, which, on April 8, 2010, denied Plaintiff's request for review. Plaintiff filed the current civil action on April 22, 2010, challenging Defendant's final decision.*fn1
3. On September 28, 2010, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The Commissioner followed suit a day later and filed his own motion for judgment on the pleadings. Briefing on the motions concluded October 29, 2010, at which time this Court took the motions under advisement without oral argument. For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's motion 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 may 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 as defined under the Social Security 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, 482 U.S. 137, 140-142, 107 S. Ct. 2287, 2291, 96 L. Ed. 2d 119 (1987), and it remains the proper approach for analyzing whether a claimant is disabled.
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); 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 as to 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 of this inquiry is, in turn, 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 June 1, 2005 (R. at 11);*fn2 (2) Plaintiff's adjustment disorder with depressed mood, chronic open angle glaucoma, headaches, esophageal reflux, hepatitis B, intermittent cervicalgia, spinal stenosis at C6-7, occasional lumbago, chronic fatigue syndrome ("CFS"), and diverticulitis are "severe" impairments within the meaning of the regulations (id.); (3) Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the criteria necessary for finding a disabling impairment under the regulations (id.); (4) Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform medium work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(c) and 416.967(c) (R. at 12);*fn3 and (5) Plaintiff could perform his past relevant work as a manager, floor manager, and delivery driver (R. at 15). Ultimately, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not under a disability as defined by the Act from June 1, 2005, through July 16, 2009, the date of the ALJ's decision. (R. at 16.)
10. Plaintiff advances four challenges to the ALJ's decision. First, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred by substituting his own opinion for that of competent medical expert opinion. Second, he argues that the ALJ's RFC assessment is not supported by substantial evidence. Third, he argues that the ALJ did not properly evaluate the severity of his CFS. Fourth, Plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred in assessing his credibility.
11. Plaintiff first argues that the ALJ played the role of doctor in interpreting objective medical findings. This was error, Plaintiff asserts, because the ALJ was not competent to interpret raw medical data in the record.
12. In searching the ALJ's opinion, this Court notes that the ALJ does cite to much "raw" medical data. (See R. at 13-15.) In so doing, however, the ALJ also cites to the opinions of various physicians in support of his decision. For example, ophthalmologist records from October 13, 2006 show that Plaintiff was doing well on the drug Xalatan ...