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Vine v. Colvin

United States District Court, Second Circuit

June 4, 2013

GUY M. VINE, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

VICTOR E. BIANCHINI, Magistrate Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

In August of 2008, Plaintiff Guy Vine applied for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits and disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under the Social Security Act. Plaintiff alleges that he has been unable to work since April of 2004 due to various impairments. The Commissioner of Social Security denied Plaintiff's applications.

Plaintiff, by and through his attorneys, Amdursky, Pelky, Fennell and Wallen, P.C, Gregory R. Gilbert, of counsel, commenced this action seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405 (g) and 1383 (c)(3).

On March 22, 2013, the Honorable Gary L. Sharpe, Chief United States District Judge, referred this case to the undersigned for a Report and Recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A) and (B). (Docket No. 11).

II. BACKGROUND

The relevant procedural history may be summarized as follows:

On August 28, 2008, Plaintiff applied for SSI benefits and DIB under the Social Security Act, alleging that he had been unable to work since April 15, 2004. (T at 88, 89).[2] The applications were denied initially and Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). A hearing was held in Syracuse, New York, on March 10, 2010, before ALJ Bruce S. Fein. (T at 26). Plaintiff appeared with an attorney and testified. (T at 32-62).

On July 14, 2010, ALJ Fein issued a written decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act and denying his claim for benefits. (T at 8-25). The ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision on January 27, 2012, when the Social Security Administration Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (T at 3-7).

Plaintiff, by and through counsel, timely commenced this action by filing a Complaint on March 1, 2012. (Docket No. 1). The Commissioner interposed an Answer on July 9, 2012. (Docket No. 6). Plaintiff filed a supporting Brief on August 23, 2012. (Docket No. 9). The Commissioner filed a Brief in opposition on October 2, 2012. (Docket No. 10).

Pursuant to General Order No. 18, issued by the Chief District Judge of the Northern District of New York on September 12, 2003, this Court will proceed as if both parties had accompanied their briefs with a motion for judgment on the pleadings.[3]

For the reasons below, it is recommended that Plaintiff's motion be denied, the Commissioner's motion be granted, and this case be dismissed.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Legal Standard

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 only be reversed if the correct legal standards were not applied, or it was not supported by substantial evidence. Johnson v. Bowen , 817 F.2d 983, 986 (2d Cir.1987) ("Where there is a reasonable basis for doubt whether the ALJ applied correct legal principles, application of the substantial evidence standard to uphold a finding of no disability creates an unacceptable risk that a claimant will be deprived of the right to have her disability determination made according to the correct legal principles."); 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 evidence that 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).

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. §§ 416.920, 404.1520. 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, 96 L.Ed.2d 119 (1987), and it remains the proper approach for analyzing whether a claimant is disabled.[4]

While 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 (2d Cir.1984).

The final step of the inquiry is, in turn, divided into two parts. First, the Commissioner must assess the claimant's job qualifications by considering his or 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. §§ 416.920(g); 404.1520(g); Heckler v. Campbell , 461 U.S. 458, 460, 103 S.Ct. 1952. 76 L.Ed.2d 66 (1983)

B. Analysis

1. Commissioner's Decision

The ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 15, 2004 (the alleged onset date) and met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through March 31, 2005. (T at 13). The ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following impairments considered "severe" under the Social Security Regulations: degenerative spondylosis, status post left ankle/end leg fracture, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease ("COPD"). (T at 13-15).

The ALJ determined that Plaintiff's medically determinable impairments did not meet or equal one of the impairments listed in Appendix I of the Regulations (the "Listings"). (T at 15).

The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity to lift/carry 20 pound occasionally and 10 pounds frequently, stand/walk for about 2 hours in an 8-hour workday, and sit for about 6 hours in an 8-hour workday. He found that Plaintiff could push and/or pull using all extremities consistent with light work; occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; and that Plaintiff should avoid extreme cold and heat, as well as fumes, odors, dust, gases, and poor ventilation. (T at 15-21).

The ALJ found that Plaintiff could not perform his past relevant work as a millwright carpenter. However, considering Plaintiff's age (39 on the alleged onset date), education (high school), and the RFC (at least sedentary work), the ALJ determined that there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform. (T at 21-22).

Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as that term is defined under the Act, from the alleged onset date (April 15, 2004) through the date of the ALJ's decision (July 14, 2010), and was therefore not entitled to benefits. (T at 22). As noted above, the ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision on January 27, 2012, when the Social Security Administration Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (T at 3-7).

2. Plaintiff's Claims

Plaintiff argues that the Commissioner's decision should be reversed. He offers four (4) principal arguments. First, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ should have concluded that his obesity and the "fissuring" condition of his hand and feet were severe impairments. Second, Plaintiff contends that the ALJ did not properly assess the opinion of his treating physician. Third, Plaintiff challenges the ALJ's credibility determination. ...


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