United States District Court, N.D. New York
PETER A. GORTON, ESQ., LACHMAN & GORTON, Endicott, NY, Counsel for Plaintiff.
SIXTINA FERNANDEZ, ESQ., U.S. SOCIAL SECURITY ADMIN. OFFICE OF REG'L GEN. COUNSEL-REGION II, New York, NY, Counsel for Defendant.
GLENN T. SUDDABY, District Judge.
Currently before the Court, in this Social Security action filed by David Williams ("Plaintiff") against the Commissioner of Social Security ("Defendant" or "the Commissioner") pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c) are the parties' cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings. (Dkt. Nos. 14, 17.) For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's motion is denied and Defendant's motion is granted.
I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND
A. Factual Background
Plaintiff was born on February 28, 1971. Plaintiff completed a high school education. His most recent employment included a series of small jobs. Plaintiff concedes he has no past relevant work. Generally, Plaintiff's alleged disability consists of bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), substance abuse disorder, hypertension, hepatitis C, mild right ankle degeneration and obesity. His alleged disability onset date is October 31, 2011, and his date last insured is June 30, 2012.
B. Procedural History
On January 6, 2012, Plaintiff applied for Social Security Disability Insurance and on April 24, 2012, Plaintiff applied for Supplemental Security Income. Plaintiff's applications were initially denied, after which he timely requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("the ALJ"). On February 26, 2013, Plaintiff appeared at a video hearing before the ALJ, Elizabeth W. Koennecke. (T. 32-46.) The ALJ issued a written decision finding Plaintiff not disabled under the Social Security Act on March 26, 2013 (T. 11-31.) On July 12, 2013, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (T. 1-6.) Thereafter, Plaintiff timely sought judicial review in this Court.
C. The ALJ's Decision
Generally, in her decision, the ALJ made the following nine findings of fact and conclusions of law. (T. 17-27.) First, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset date. (T. 17.) Second, the ALJ found that, during the relevant time period, Plaintiff's polysubstance abuse and mood disorders were severe impairments, but that Plaintiff's physical impairments were not severe. (T. 17-18.) Third, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's severe impairments did not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments located in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix. 1. (T. 18-20.) The ALJ considered Listings 12.04 and 12.09. Fourth, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has
the residual functional capacity ["RFC"] to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels and retains the ability (on a sustained basis) to constantly understand, carry out, and remember simple instructions; to occasionally respond appropriately to supervision, coworkers, and ususal work situations; and to constantly deal with changes in a routine work setting.
(T. 20-22.) Fifth, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has no past relevant work. (T. 22.) Sixth, the ALJ found that, considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience and RFC based on all of his impairments, including the substance abuse disorder, there are no jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform. (T. 22-23.) Seventh, the ALJ found that, if Plaintiff stopped the substance use, he would have the RFC
to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels and retain the ability (on a sustained basis) to constantly understand, carry out, and remember simple instructions; to frequently respond appropriately to supervision, co-workers, and ususal work situations; and to constantly deal with changes in a routine work setting.
(T. 24-26.) Eighth, the ALJ determined that, if Plaintiff stopped the substance abuse, considering his age, education, work experience and RFC, there would be a significant number of jobs in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform. (T. 26-27.) Ninth, and finally, the ALJ concluded that, Plaintiff's substance use disorder is a contributing factor material to the determination of disability because Plaintiff would not be disabled if he stopped the substance use. (T. 27.)
II. THE PARTIES' BRIEFINGS ON PLAINTIFF'S MOTION
A. Plaintiff's Arguments
Plaintiff makes five separate arguments in support of his motion for judgment on the pleadings. First, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ improperly determined Plaintiff's RFC if he stopped his substance abuse. (Dkt. No. 14 at 6-12 [Pl.'s Mem. of Law].) Second, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's RFC determination is not supported by substantial evidence. ( Id. at 12-15.) Third, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to follow the treating physician rule. ( Id. at 15-17.) Fourth, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to elicit the testimony of a vocational expert. ( Id. at 18-20.) Fifth, and finally, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to consider Plaintiff's many low Global Assessment Functioning ("GAF") scores. ( Id. at 20-22.)
B. Defendant's Arguments
In response, Defendant makes three arguments. First, Defendant argues that the ALJ properly found that Plaintiff's alcohol abuse was a material factor to a finding of disability. (Dkt. No. 17 at 9-18 [Def.'s Mem. of Law].) Second, Defendant argues that the ALJ properly considered Plaintiff's subjective symptomalogy. ( Id. at 18-20.) Third, and finally, Defendant ...