United States District Court, W.D. New York
KENNETH R. HILLER, ESQ. Law Offices of Kenneth Hiller, Amherst, New York Attorney for Plaintiff.
WILLIAM J. HOCHUL, JR., United States Attorney, Western District of New York (MARY C. KANE, 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 entered on April 16, 2014. Item 24.
Plaintiff Clovis Daniels, Jr., initiated this action pursuant to the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) ("the Act"), to review the final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying plaintiff's applications for Social Security Disability Income ("SSDI") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits, as provided for in Titles II and XVI of the Act. Both parties have moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the following reasons, plaintiff's motion is denied, and the Commissioner's motion is granted.
Plaintiff was born on November 18, 1960 (Tr. 33, 106). He applied for SSDI and SSI benefits in May 2009, alleging disability due to back, foot and knee pain, and depression, with an onset date of April 25, 2005 ( see Tr. 106-11). Upon denial of these applications at the initial level of agency review (Tr. 53-54, 58-73), plaintiff requested a hearing which was held on January 12, 2011, before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Robert T. Harvey (Tr. 31-52). Plaintiff appeared and testified at the hearing, and was represented by counsel.
On February 7, 2011, the ALJ issued a decision denying plaintiff's applications for Title II and Title XVI benefits (Tr. 14-24). Following the five-step sequential process for evaluating disability claims outlined in the Social Security Regulations at 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a), the ALJ determined that plaintiff's impairments (including status post amputation of the second toe, left foot; status post bunionectomy of the great toe, left foot, with skin osteotomy and surgical fusion of the second toe; depression; and substance abuse), while severe, did not meet or medically equal the severity of any impairment listed at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (the "Listings"), specifically, Listings 1.02 (major dysfunction of a joint); 1.03 (surgical arthrodesis of a major weight bearing joint); 12.04 (Affective Disorders); and 12.09 (Substance Addiction Disorders) (Tr. 16-18). The ALJ found that the evidence in the record, including plaintiff's testimony and statements regarding the limiting effect of his symptoms, reports of treatment and diagnostic testing at the Veterans Administration Medical Center ("VAMC"), and the reports and opinions of consultative and treating medical sources, demonstrated that plaintiff had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") for "light" work,  with the limitations that he could not work in areas with unprotected heights or exposure to cold, or around heavy, moving, or dangerous machinery; he could not climb ropes, ladders, or scaffolds; he had occasional limitations in his ability to squat, use foot controls; and he could work in a job with a moderate amount of stress (Tr. 18-24). Based on this RFC assessment, the ALJ concluded at step four of the sequential evaluation that plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act because he was able to perform the physical and mental demands of his past relevant work as a security guard, as he previously performed it (Tr. 24).
The ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final determination on December 5, 2012, when the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review (Tr. 1-3). Plaintiff then filed this action on January 28, 2013, seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), and the parties have both moved for judgment on the pleadings under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c).
In support of his motion for judgment on the pleadings, plaintiff asserts the following grounds for remanding the case to the Commissioner for further proceedings:
1. The ALJ failed to properly evaluate plaintiff's credibility with respect to his subjective complaints of pain;
2. The ALJ failed to obtain an RFC assessment from a treating or consulting medical source;
3. The ALJ's conclusion that Mr. Daniels could perform his past relevant work as a security guard as he actually performed it is not supported by substantial evidence.
See Items 16-1, 23. These grounds are addressed in turn in the discussion that follows.
I. Scope of ...