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Stockwell v. Astrue

United States District Court, Second Circuit

August 23, 2013

MICHAEL H. STOCKWELL, Plaintiff,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

BUCKLEY, MENDLESON LAW FIRM, IRA MENDLESON, III, ESQ., , Albany, New York, Attorneys for Plaintiff.

SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Office of Regional General Counsel Region II, REBECCA H. ESTELLE, ESQ., New York, New York, Attorneys for Defendant.

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

MAE A. D'AGOSTINO, District Judge.

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Michael H. Stockwell ("plaintiff") brings the above-captioned action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking review of the Social Security Commissioner's decision to deny his application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB").

BACKGROUND

On February 17, 2010, plaintiff protectively filed an application DIB benefits. (Administrative Transcript at p. 4-6).[1] Plaintiff was 30 years old at the time of the application with prior work experience as a truck driver and contractor. (T. 129). Plaintiff claimed that he was disabled, beginning on August 31, 2009, due to an injury sustained at work. Plaintiff alleged that he suffered the following impairments: bulging and protruding discs, bad ankles, dyslexia, anger disorder, hypertension, depression and asthma. (T. 127). On August 19, 2010, plaintiff's application was denied and plaintiff requested a hearing by an ALJ which was held on June 28, 2011. (T. 2, 8-9). On August 22, 2010, the ALJ issued a decision denying plaintiff's claim for benefits. The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review making the ALJ's decision the final determination of the Commissioner. This action followed.

DISCUSSION

The Social Security Act (the "Act") authorizes payment of disability insurance benefits to individuals with "disabilities." The Act defines "disability" as the "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment... which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). There is a five-step analysis for evaluating disability claims:

In essence, if the Commissioner determines (1) that the claimant is not working, (2) that he has a severe impairment, ' (3) that the impairment is not one [listed in Appendix 1 of the regulations] that conclusively requires a determination of disability, and (4) that the claimant is not capable of continuing in his prior type of work, the Commissioner must find him disabled if (5) there is not another type of work the claimant can do." The claimant bears the burden of proof on the first four steps, while the Social Security Administration bears the burden on the last step.

Green-Younger v. Barnhart, 335 F.3d 99, 106 (2d Cir. 2003) (quoting Draegert v. Barnhart, 311 F.3d 468, 472 (2d Cir. 2002)); Shaw v. Chater, 221 F.3d 126, 132 (2d Cir. 2000) (internal citations omitted).

A Commissioner's determination that a claimant is not disabled will be set aside when the factual findings are not supported by "substantial evidence." 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); see also Shaw, 221 F.3d at 131. Substantial evidence has been interpreted to mean "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id. The Court may also set aside the Commissioner's decision when it is based upon legal error. Rosa v. Callahan, 168 F.3d 72, 77 (2d Cir. 1999).

The ALJ found at step one that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 31, 2009 (T. 15). At step two, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff suffered from a back disorder which qualified as a "severe impairment" within the meaning of the Social Security Regulations (the "Regulations"). (T. 15). At the third step of the analysis, the ALJ determined that plaintiff's impairment did not meet or equal the severity of any impairment listed in Appendix 1 of the Regulations. (T. 16). The ALJ found that plaintiff had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform the full range of light work as defined in 20 CFR § 404.1567(b) and specifically found, "claimant has the ability to sit and stand or walk for six hours in an eight hour workday, lift twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently and occasionally push or pull using his upper and lower extremities".[2] (T. 16, 20). At step four, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff was not capable of performing any past relevant work. (T. 20). Relying on the medical-vocational guidelines ("the grids") set forth in the Regulations, 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 2, the ALJ found that plaintiff had the RFC to perform jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy. (T. 20). Therefore, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff was not under a disability as defined by the Social Security Act. (T. 21).

In seeking federal judicial review of the Commissioner's decision, plaintiff argues that: (1) the ALJ failed to properly apply the treating physician rule with respect to plaintiff's primary care physician; (2) the ALJ failed to cite to objective medical evidence supporting the RFC analysis; (3) the ALJ failed to properly assess plaintiff's credibility; and (4) the matter should be remanded for a calculation of benefits. (Dkt. No. 10).

I. Treating Physician Rule

Under the Regulations, a treating physician's opinion is entitled to "controlling weight" when it is "well-supported by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques and is not inconsistent with substantial evidence in [the] case record." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(d)(2) (2001); see also Rosa v. Callahan, 168 F.3d 72, 78-79 (2d Cir. 1999); Schisler v. Sullivan, 3 F.3d 563, 567 (2d Cir. 1993). The ALJ is required to accord special evidentiary weight to the opinion of the treating physician, as long as the treating physician's opinion is supported by medically acceptable techniques, results from frequent examinations, and is supported by the administrative record. Schnetzler v. Astrue, 533 F.Supp.2d 272, 285 (E.D.N.Y. 2008). An ALJ may refuse to consider the treating physician's opinion controlling if he is able to set forth good reason for doing so. Barnett v. Apfel, 13 F.Supp.2d 312, 316 (N.D.N.Y. 1998).

When an ALJ refuses to assign a treating physician's opinion controlling weight, he must consider a number of factors to determine the ...


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