United States District Court, W.D. New York
DECISION AND ORDER
DAVID G. LARIMER, District Judge.
Plaintiff Michael Wayne Patterson ("Plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to sections 216(i), 223(d), and 1614(a)(3)(A) of the Social Security Act. Plaintiff seeks review of a final decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"), denying his application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental security income ("SSI"). Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that the decision of the ALJ John P. Costello, denying his application for benefits, was against the weight of substantial evidence contained in the record and contrary to the treating physician rule. Plaintiff further argues that there is no evidence supporting the ALJ's assertion that Plaintiff is able to perform work at a medium exertional level.
Plaintiff moves for judgment on the pleadings, on grounds that the Commissioner's decision was erroneous. The Commissioner cross moves for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c), on grounds that the ALJ's decision was supported by substantial evidence. For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds that the decision of the Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence and is in accordance with applicable law. Therefore, the Commissioner's cross motion for judgment on the pleadings is granted, and the Commissioner's decision is affirmed.
Plaintiff filed applications for DIB and SSI on March 8, 2011, originally alleging disability since July 1, 2005, due to a bilateral hip condition requiring hip replacement surgeries in 2005 and 2010, depression, and substance abuse (Transcript of Administrative Proceedings at pages 188-200, 237, 242, 261) (hereinafter "Tr."). His applications were denied. (Tr. 85-86, 89-92). After administrative hearings on May 15, 2012 (where Plaintiff stipulated to amending his alleged onset date of disability to June 15, 2009), and June 26, 2012 (Tr. 27-77), ALJ John P. Costello issued a decision denying Plaintiff's applications on July 25, 2012. (Tr. 10-20). That decision became the Commissioner's final decision on June 14, 2013, when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (Tr. 1-4). This action followed.
Familiarity with the pertinent facts, summarized below, is presumed.
Plaintiff was born on June 15, 1954 and was fifty-five years old on the alleged onset date of disability. (Tr. 18, 237). He reported a tenth grade education, completed in June 1972, and is able to communicate in English. (Tr. 18). Plaintiff has a work history beginning in 1969 which includes janitorial maintenance and property maintenance work. (Tr. 204-206, 243).
Plaintiff's primary medical diagnoses include degenerative joint disease of the hips (following bilateral hip replacement), Hepatitis C, substance abuse, depression, insomnia, and tension headaches. (Tr. 34).
I. Standard for Determining Disability
An individual is entitled to disability benefits under the Social Security Act if the individual is unable "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 months...." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). Federal regulations provide a five-step analysis that the Commissioners must follow in determining eligibility for disability insurance benefits. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. The first step is to determine whether the claimant is engaged in "substantial gainful activity." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b). If he is engaged in such activity, he is not eligible for benefits. Id. If he is not engaged in such activity, inquiry continues to the second step, which decides whether the claimant's impairment is "severe"-i.e., one that significantly limits his physical or mental ability to do basic work activities. Id. If the impairment is not severe, benefits are denied. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). If the impairment is severe, the analysis moves to the third step, determining whether the claimant's impairments meet or are equivalent to those set forth in the "Listing of Impairments" in Appendix 1 of the federal regulations. Id.
If the claimant's impairments are not listed, the process moves to the fourth step, which assesses the individual's "residual functional capacity" ("RFC"). 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e). This valuation measures the claimant's aptitude to engage in basic work activities and includes an assessment of the demands of the applicant's past work, if any. Id. If the claimant's RFC permits him to perform his prior work, benefits are denied. Id. If the claimant is not capable of doing his past work, a decision is made under the fifth and final step whether, in light of his RFC, age, education, and work experience, he has the capacity to perform other work. 20 C.F.R. ...