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Craig R. Roth v. Commissioner of Social Security

September 25, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Thomas J. McAVOY, Senior United States District Judge



Plaintiff Craig R. Roth brought this suit under the Social Security Act ("Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3), to review a final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying his application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). Plaintiff alleges that the decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") denying the applications for benefits is not supported by substantial evidence and contrary to the applicable legal standards. The Commissioner argues that the decision is supported by substantial evidence and made in accordance with the correct legal standards. Pursuant to Northern District of New York General Order No. 8, the Court proceeds as if both parties had accompanied their briefs with a motion for judgment on the pleadings.


A. Procedural History

On March 19, 2008, Craig R. Roth protectively filed a Title II application for disability insurance benefits and a Title XVI application for supplemental security income. In both applications, Plaintiff alleged disability beginning December 5, 2007. These claims were initially denied on April 29, 2008 and Plaintiff filed a written request for hearing on May 21, 2008. Plaintiff appeared and testified at a hearing held on December 22, 2009, in Syracuse, N.Y., held before Administrative Law Judge Elizabeth W. Koennecke. Plaintiff was represented by counsel. At the hearing, the only exhibit that Plaintiff's representative objected to was a physical residual functional capacity assessment of Plaintiff completed by a state-agency disability examiner. Plaintiff's representative objected to this report on the grounds that it was not a medical report. Plaintiff's representative also stated at the hearing that he was awaiting a report from Plaintiff's treating rheumatologist, Dr. Rarnzi Khairallah, and that nobody would complete a residual functional capacity assessment on behalf of Plaintiff. The ALJ held the record open until January 2, 2010 for the submission of rheumatology records or any other reports, including reports from Dr. Khairallah. After noting the above issues, Plaintiff's representative stated that the administrative record was complete and the ALJ then proceeded to render a determination.

The ALJ found that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2012. At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 5, 2007, the alleged onset date.

Tr. 12. At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the severe impairments ofcervical and lumbar spondylosis (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).

Next, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the listing impairments in 20 C.F.R.§§ Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926). The ALJ then concluded that, after consideration of the entire record, Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity to perform the full range of sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a), in that the claimant can occasionally lift and/or carry ten pounds and frequently lift and/or carry less than ten pounds, stand and/or walk about six hours in an eight-hour workday, sit for about six hours in an eight-hour workday, and has an unlimited capacity to push and/or pull.

Considering Plaintiff's residual functional capacity, age (44 years old), education (high school education ), and work experience, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was able to perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had not been under a "disability," as that term is defined under the Act, and was, therefore, not entitled to benefits. The ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision on March 18, 2011 when the Social Security Administration Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review.

Plaintiff makes several arguments challenging the Commissioner's decision, which the Court will address seriatim.


A. Standard of Review

The Court's review of the Commissioner's determination is limited to two inquiries. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). First, the Court determines whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standard. See Tejada v. Apfel, 167 F.3d 770, 773 (2d Cir. 1999); Balsamo v. Chater, 142 F.3d 75, 79 (2d Cir. 1998); Cruz v. Sullivan, 912 F.2d 8, 11 (2d Cir. 1990); Shane v. Chater, No. 96-CV-66, 1997 WL 426203, at *4 (N.D.N.Y July 16, 1997)(Pooler, J.)(citing Johnson v. Bowen, 817 F.2d 983, 986 (2d Cir. 1987)). Second, the Court must determine whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence in the administrative record. See Tejada, 167 F.3d at 773; Balsamo, 142 F.3d at 79; Cruz, 912 F.2d at 11; Rutherford v. Schweiker, 685 F.2d 60, 62 (2d Cir. 1982). A Commissioner's finding will be deemed conclusive if supported by substantial evidence. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); see also Perez, 77 F.3d at 46; Townley v. Heckler, 748 F.2d 109, 112 (2d Cir. 1984)("It is not the function of a reviewing court to determine de novo whether a Plaintiff is disabled. The [Commissioner's] findings of fact, if supported by substantial evidence, are binding.")(citations omitted). In the context of Social Security cases, substantial evidence consists of "'more than a mere scintilla'" and is measured by "'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)(quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229, 59 S.Ct. 206, 217, 83 L. Ed. 126 (1938)). Where the record supports disparate findings and provides adequate support for both the Plaintiff's and the Commissioner's positions, a reviewing court must accept the ALJ's factual determinations. See Quinones v. Chater, 117 F.3d 29, 36 ...

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