United States District Court, N.D. New York
RICHARD A. LA VENTURE, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
OLINSKY LAW GROUP HOWARD D. OLINSKY, ESQ., Syracuse, NY, OFFICE OF REGIONAL GENERAL COUNSEL SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION REGION II ELIZABETH D. ROTHSTEIN, ESQ., New York, NY, Attorneys for Defendant.
MEMORANDUM-DECISION and ORDER
DAVID N. HURD, District Judge.
Plaintiff Richard A. La Venture ("La Venture" or "plaintiff") brings this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) of the Social Security Act, to review a final decision of defendant Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner" or "defendant") denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"). The parties have filed their briefs, including the Administrative Record on Appeal, and the matter has been submitted for decision without oral argument.
La Venture filed an application for DIB on December 17, 2008, claiming a period of disability beginning on May 1, 2007. His application was denied on March 9, 2009. At plaintiff's request, a video hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on September 9, 2010. The ALJ rendered a written decision on October 28, 2010, concluding that plaintiff was disabled between May 1, 2007, and November 30, 2008, but that plaintiff's disability had ended on December 1, 2008. On February 24, 2011, plaintiff appealed the ALJ's decision to the Appeals Council. On August 2, 2012, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review.
La Venture filed this action on September 28, 2012, seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's denial of benefits subsequent to December 1, 2008. Because the parties are familiar with the underlying facts, they are discussed only to the extent necessary to address plaintiff's appeal.
A. Standard of Review
A court's review of the Commissioner's final decision is limited to determining whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence and the correct legal standards were applied. Poupore v. Astrue , 566 F.3d 303, 305 (2d Cir. 2009) (per curiam). "Substantial evidence means more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'" Id . (quoting Consol. Edison Co. v. NLRB , 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)).
"To determine on appeal whether an ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence, a reviewing court considers the whole record, examining the evidence from both sides, because an analysis of the substantiality of the evidence must also include that which detracts from its weight." Williams v. Bowen , 859 F.2d 255, 258 (2d Cir. 1988) (citing Universal Camera Corp. v. NLRB , 340 U.S. 474, 488 (1951)). If the Commissioner's disability determination is supported by substantial evidence, that determination is conclusive. See id. Where evidence is deemed susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the Commissioner's decision must be upheld - even if the court's independent review of the evidence may differ from the Commissioner's. See Rutherford v. Schweiker , 685 F.2d 60, 62 (2d Cir. 1982); Rosado v. Sullivan , 805 F.Supp. 147, 153 (S.D.N.Y. 1992).
However, "where there is a reasonable basis for doubting whether the Commissioner applied the appropriate legal standards, " the decision should not be affirmed even though the ultimate conclusion reached is arguably supported by substantial evidence. Martone v. Apfel , 70 F.Supp.2d 145, 148 (N.D.N.Y. 1999) (citing Johnson v. Bowen , 817 F.2d 983, 986 (2d Cir. 1987)).
B. Disability Determination - The Five-Step Evaluation Process
The Social Security Act defines "disability" as the "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 ...