United States District Court, W.D. New York
RANDY CLIFFORD SKIVER, PRO SE, WILLIAM J. HOCHUL, JR., United States Attorney, Western District of New York, (RICHARD D. KAUFMAN, AUSA, of Counsel), United States Attorney's Office, Buffalo, New York, Attorneys for Defendant.
JOHN T. CURTIN, District Judge.
This matter has been transferred to the undersigned for all further proceedings, by order of Chief United States District Judge William M. Skretny dated November 14, 2013 (Item 17).
Plaintiff Randy Clifford Skiver initiated this action pursuant to the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to review the final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying plaintiff's application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits, as provided for in Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1381 et seq. The Commissioner has moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the following reasons, the Commissioner's motion is granted.
Plaintiff filed an application for SSI benefits with the Social Security Administration ("SSA") on March 26, 2009, alleging disability beginning February 18, 2009 (Tr. 196, 265-68). The application was administratively denied by the SSA on August 4, 2009 (Tr. 199-206). Plaintiff requested a hearing, which was held on April 5, 2011, before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Stanley A. Moskal, Jr. (Tr. 162-82). Plaintiff appeared at the hearing and testified, and was represented by counsel.
On July 20, 2011, ALJ Moskal issued a decision finding that plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act (Tr. 14-24). The ALJ determined that plaintiff had severe borderline intellectual functioning, hearing loss, and depression, but that these impairments, considered singly or in combination, did not meet or equal the severity of any impairment listed at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (the "Listings"). The ALJ then determined that, based on the medical evidence and hearing testimony in the record, and considering plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels (with certain nonexertional limitations), there were a significant number of jobs in the national economy that plaintiff could perform. Upon consideration of the "framework" of Section 204.00 of the Medical-Vocational Guidelines, 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2 (the "Grids"), the ALJ determined that a finding of "not disabled" was appropriate, and that plaintiff therefore had not been under a disability since the filing date of March 26, 2009. This determination became the final decision of the Commissioner on July 17, 2012, when the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review (Tr. 1-6).
Plaintiff filed this action pro se on September 21, 2012, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's determination ( see Item 1). The Commissioner filed an answer (Item 6) along with a copy of the administrative transcript, and subsequently moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) (Item 11).
For the reasons that follow, the Commissioner's motion is granted.
I. Scope of Judicial Review
The Social Security Act provides that, upon district court review of the Commissioners decision, "[t]he findings of the Commissioner... as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive...." 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence is defined as evidence which "a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938), quoted in Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); see also Tejada v. Apfel, 167 F.3d 770, 773-74 (2d Cir. 1999). The substantial evidence test applies not only to findings on basic evidentiary facts, but also to inferences and conclusions drawn from the facts. Giannasca v. Astrue, 2011 WL 4445141, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 26, 2011) (citing Rodriguez v. Califano, 431 F.Supp. 421, 423 (S.D.N.Y. 1977)).
Under these standards, the scope of judicial review of the Commissioner's decision is limited, and the reviewing court may not try the case de novo or substitute its findings for those of the Commissioner. Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401; see also Cage v. Comm'r of Soc. Servs., 692 F.3d 118, 122 (2d Cir. 2012). The court's inquiry is "whether the record, read as a whole, yields such evidence as would allow a reasonable mind to accept the conclusions reached" by the Commissioner. Sample v. Schweiker, 694 F.2d 639, 642 (9th Cir. 1982), quoted in Winkelsas v. Apfel, 2000 WL 575513, at *2 (W.D.N.Y. February 14, 2000).
However, "[b]efore the insulation of the substantial evidence test comes into play, it must first be determined that the facts of a particular case have been evaluated in the light of correct legal standards." Klofta v. Mathews, 418 F.Supp. 1139, 1411 (E.D.Wis. 1976), quoted in Sharbaugh v. Apfel, 2000 WL 575632, at *2 (W.D.N.Y. March 20, 2000); see also Nunez v. Astrue, 2013 WL 3753421, at *6 (S.D.N.Y. July 17, 2013) (citing Tejada, 167 F.3d at 773). "Failure to apply the correct legal standard constitutes reversible error, including, in certain circumstances, failure to adhere to the applicable regulations." Kohler v. Astrue, 546 F.3d 260, 265 (2d Cir. 2008) (citations omitted). Thus, the Commissioner's determination cannot be upheld when it is based on an erroneous view of the law, or misapplication of the regulations, that disregards highly probative evidence. See Grey v. Heckler, 721 F.2d 41, 44 ...