MICHAEL J. TELFER, ESQ.,
LEGAL AID SOCIETY OF NORTHEAST NEW YORK, Albany, NY, Counsel for Plaintiff,
KAREN S. SOUTHWICK, ESQ.,
OLINSKY LAW GROUP, Syracuse, NY, Counsel for Plaintiff.
TOMASINA DIGRIGOLI, ESQ.,
U.S. SOCIAL SECURITY ADMIN., OFFICE OF REG'L GEN. COUNSEL-REGION II, New York,
NY, Counsel for Defendant.
MEMORANDUM-DECISION and ORDER
GLENN T. SUDDABY, District Judge.
Currently before the Court, in this Social Security action filed by Calvin Ealy ("Plaintiff") against the Commissioner of Social Security ("Defendant" or "the Commissioner") pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c) are the parties' cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings. (Dkt. Nos. 13, 14.) For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's motion is granted and Defendant's motion is denied.
I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND
A. Factual Background
Plaintiff was born on May 7, 1970. Plaintiff has completed his education through the tenth grade, which included some special education classes. He later obtained a General Equivalency Diploma. Plaintiff's work history consists of mostly part time employment in cleaning and some full time employment in construction. All of Plaintiff's jobs were of a few months' duration. Generally, Plaintiff's alleged disability consists of back pain stemming from a history of multiple gunshot wounds, broken ribs, pain in his left wrist and ankle, scoliosis, migraine headaches, bipolar disorder, mood disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety attacks and paranoia. His alleged disability onset date is January 1, 2008.
B. Procedural History
On September 17, 2008, Plaintiff applied for Supplemental Security Income. Plaintiff's application was initially denied, after which he timely requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("the ALJ"). Plaintiff first appeared before the ALJ, John P. Ramos, on September 27, 2010. The ALJ postponed the hearing to allow Plaintiff additional time to obtain representation. (T. 145-152.) On January 18, 2011, Plaintiff appeared before the ALJ with counsel and a hearing was conducted. (T. 96-144.) The ALJ issued a written decision finding Plaintiff not disabled under the Social Security Act on February 25, 2011. (T. 12-30.) On March 1, 2012, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (T. 4-7.) Thereafter, Plaintiff timely sought judicial review in this Court.
C. The ALJ's Decision
Generally, in his decision, the ALJ made the following five findings of fact and conclusions of law. (T. 17-24.) First, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his application date. (T. 17.) Second, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's episodic low back pain secondary to history of multiple gunshot wounds, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, poly-substance abuse in remission and bipolar disorder are severe impairments, but that his migraines, blurred vision, right foot arthritis, status post-1997 gunshot wounds to the left leg and face, and carpal tunnel syndrome are not severe. (T. 17-18.) Third, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's severe impairments did not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments located in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix. 1. (T. 18-19.) The ALJ considered listings 1.04, 12.04 and 12.09. ( Id. ) Fourth, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform less than the full range of light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b), in that he is able to lift and/or carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently, stand and/or walk for six hours in an eight-hour workday, and sit for six hours in an eight-hour workday. (T. 20-23.) Further, the ALJ found as follows: Plaintiff "can occasionally engage in postural activities. Additionally, [Plaintiff] retains the ability to understand and follow simple instructions and directions, perform simple tasks with supervision and independently, maintain attention and concentration for simple tasks, regularly attend to a routine and maintain a schedule, relate to and interact appropriately with others, and handle reasonable levels of simple, repetitive, work-related stress." ( Id. ) Fifth, and finally, the ALJ determined that there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform. (T. 23-24.)
II. THE PARTIES' BRIEFINGS ON PLAINTIFF'S MOTION
A. Plaintiff's Arguments
Plaintiff makes three separate arguments in support of his motion for judgment on the pleadings. First, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's RFC finding is unsupported by substantial evidence because he erroneously (1) afforded very little weight to the opinion of treating physician, Dr. Howard, (2) afforded significant weight to the vague opinion of consultative examiner, Dr. Tranese, (3) failed to specify the weight afforded to the opinion of Dr. Hochberg, and (4) credited Dr. Hochberg's opinion on an issue reserved to the Commissioner. (Dkt. No. 13 at 8-15 [Pl.'s Mem. of Law].) Second, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's credibility determination is unsupported by substantial evidence. ( Id. at 15-19.) Third, and finally, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's determination at step five of the sequential analysis is unsupported by substantial evidence because (1) it relies on an erroneous RFC determination and (2) the ALJ relied on the grids instead of consulting a vocational expert, which was required due to Plaintiff's significant non-exertional limitations. ( Id. at 19.)
B. Defendant's Arguments
In response, Defendant makes three arguments. First, Defendant argues that the ALJ's RFC finding was supported by substantial evidence. (Dkt. No. 14 at 10-16 [Def.'s Mem. of Law].) Second, Defendant argues that the ALJ properly evaluated Plaintiff's credibility. ( Id. at 16-18.) Third, and finally, Defendant argues that the ALJ properly concluded that Plaintiff could perform a significant number of jobs in the national economy. ( Id. at 18-19.)
III. RELEVANT LEGAL ...