United States District Court, W.D. New York
DECISION & ORDER
MARIAN W. PAYSON, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff Andre Gladney ("Gladney") brings this action pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act (the "Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the "Commissioner") denying his applications for Supplemental Security Income and Disability Insurance Benefits ("SSI/DIB"). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), the parties have consented to the disposition of this case by a United States magistrate judge. (Docket # 12).
Currently before the Court are the parties' motions for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Docket ## 7, 8). For the reasons set forth below, this Court finds that the decision of the Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence in the record and is in accordance with the applicable legal standards. Accordingly, the Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings is granted, and Gladney's motion for judgment on the pleadings is denied.
I. Procedural Background
Gladney applied for DIB on January 21, 2009 and for SSI on February 17, 2009, alleging he had been disabled since June 29, 2007 due to exostosis right talus and arthritis in his hands. (Tr. 119, 127, 153). On March 31, 2009, the Social Security Administration denied both of Gladney's claims for benefits, finding that he was not disabled. (Tr. 59-60). Gladney requested and was granted a hearing before Administrative Law Judge John P. Costello (the "ALJ"). (Tr. 69-70, 80-84). The ALJ conducted a hearing in Rochester, New York on April 19, 2010. (Tr. 24-58). Gladney was represented at the hearing by his attorney, Gregory Fassler, Esq. (Tr. 24, 67). In a decision dated July 19, 2010, the ALJ found that Gladney was not disabled and was not entitled to benefits. (Tr. 11-19).
On June 15, 2012, the Appeals Council denied Gladney's request for review of the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 1-5). Gladney commenced this action on October 8, 2012 seeking review of the Commissioner's decision. (Docket # 1).
Gladney filed a subsequent application for disability benefits that was granted. (Docket # 8-1 at 3). According to Gladney, the Commissioner found him disabled beginning on July 20, 2010, the day after the ALJ's decision. ( Id. ). Accordingly, the relevant period under consideration for this appeal is June 29, 2007 until July 19, 2010.
II. Non-Medical Evidence
A. Gladney's Applications for Benefits
Gladney was born on December 22, 1976 and is now thirty-seven years old. (Tr. 149). Gladney graduated from high school in 1996. (Tr. 158). Gladney's previous work history includes employment as a maintenance employee, mail room clerk, and food-packing clerk. (Tr. 171-76). During the summer after he graduated from high school, Gladney performed maintenance activities for the City of Rochester Water Bureau. (Tr. 171, 203). Gladney was next employed by a temporary staffing agency and performed mail-sorting activities. (Tr. 173). From 1998 through July 29, 2008, Gladney was employed by Wegmans. (Tr. 120, 173).
At Wegmans, Gladney worked primarily in the meat department of the warehouse packaging fresh meat products for retail sale. (Tr. 31-32, 154-55). According to Gladney, he was an assistant team leader and responsible for supervising approximately ten employees. ( Id. ). Gladney reported that the job required him to lift rolls of wrapping paper weighing approximately fifty pounds. (Tr. 33, 154-55). In May 2007, Gladney was transferred to the bakery department where he was responsible for carrying trays of baked goods during the production process and packaging the finished bakery products. (Tr. 29-30, 154-55). According to Gladney, the trays weighed as much as seventeen pounds. (Tr. 31). Gladney reported that he left Wegmans in June 2007 for medical reasons, returned on a part-time basis in February 2008, but experienced a number of medical-related absences that ultimately caused him to cease working in July 2008. (Tr. 37-38, 120, 153). According to Gladney, his ankle condition, which limits his ability to stand or walk, caused him to stop working. (Tr. 153). He has not worked since July 2008. ( Id. ).
When Gladney applied for disability benefits, he lived with his mother. (Tr. 160). Gladney reported that his daily activities included caring for his personal hygiene and caring for his mother, who is disabled. (Tr. 161). According to Gladney, he is able to complete personal hygiene tasks without assistance, can perform household chores including sweeping, mopping and laundry and can prepare meals. (Tr. 161-62). Gladney reports that he is able to shop for groceries and is able to manage his own finances. (Tr. 164). Gladney's hobbies and activities include watching television, spending time with his family, talking on the telephone, visiting friends and using the computer. (Tr. 164-65).
According to Gladney, he has difficulty standing for periods of time and needs to hold on to something in order to climb stairs, squat or kneel. (Tr. 165). Gladney can walk approximately one block before needing to rest for a few minutes. (Tr. 166). In addition, Gladney reports that his hands ache and cramp when he lifts heavy objects. (Tr. 165). Gladney experiences pain in his hands and ankle. (Tr. 166). Gladney describes his pain as a constant ache that is not as severe as it used to be. (Tr. 168-69). Gladney manages his pain through soaking, resting and icing and uses Tylenol, which reduces the pain within ten minutes of ingestion. ( Id. ).
B. The Disability Analyst's Assessment
On March 31, 2009, disability analyst M. Smith ("Smith") completed a Physical Residual Functional Capacity Assessment. (Tr. 310-15). Smith opined that Gladney could occasionally lift ten pounds and frequently lift less than ten pounds. (Tr. 311). According to Smith, Gladney could stand or walk for at least two hours during an eight-hour workday and could sit for at least six hours in an eight-hour workday. ( Id. ). According to Smith, Gladney had no limitations on his ability to push or pull. ( Id. ). In addition, Smith opined that Gladney could occasionally climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl. (Tr. 312). Smith opined that Gladney did not have any further physical limitations. (Tr. 312-13).
III. Medical Evidence
A. Treatment Records
On July 17, 2000, Gladney began receiving primary care treatment with Faisal Shamsie, M.D. ("Shamsie"). (Tr. 350). During the initial appointment, Shamsie noted that Gladney was obese, advised Gladney to continue to diet and exercise, and scheduled Gladney for a physical examination. ( Id. ). On September 18, 2000, Gladney returned to Shamsie for a physical examination. (Tr. 351). Gladney reported that he had injured his hand at work but that the swelling in his hand had resolved. ( Id. ). Upon examination, Shamsie noted that Gladney had flat feet and referred him to Strong for orthopeadic inserts. ( Id. ).
The record does not reflect that Gladney had any additional appointments with Shamsie until June 2, 2003, when he met with Shamsie complaining of pain in his hands. (Tr. 346). Shamsie recommended testing to rule out any autoimmune disorders, Raynaud's or rheumatoid arthritis. ( Id. ). Shamsie also recommended a blood test to assess Gladney's cholesterol level and that Gladney consult a dietician, decrease his calorie intake and lose weight; Gladney declined to consult a dietician. ( Id. ). Treatment records suggest that Gladney was ultimately diagnosed with arthritis. (Tr. 338).
Shamsie referred Gladney to Altezaz Ahmed, M.D., F.A.C.R., ("Ahmed") for a rheumatology evaluation. (Tr. 326). On July 10, 2003, Ahmed diagnosed Gladney with Raynaud's phenomenon. ( Id. ). Ahmed opined that the symptoms are likely exacerbated by Gladney's occupational exposure to a cold environment and his continued smoking. ( Id. ). According to Ahmed, although testing revealed that Gladney was positive for ANA, he showed no signs of systemic connective tissue disease. ( Id. ). Ahmed prescribed Procardia and recommended a follow-up visit in one month. ( Id. ).
On August 13, 2003, Gladney returned for a follow-up appointment with Ahmed. (Tr. 328). According to Gladney, he was feeling much better and reported that his circulatory symptoms had improved since he began taking Procardia. ( Id. ). Ahmed assessed that the Raynaud's phenomenon had improved and noted that Gladney continued to test positive for ANA. ( Id. ). Ahmed opined that presence of ANA suggested that Gladney could suffer from ...