United States District Court, W.D. New York
ROBERT E. WARE, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
CLARK JORDAN PEZZINO (AMANDA R. JORDAN, ESQ., Counsel), Buffalo, New York, for Plaintiff.
WILLIAM J. HOCHUL, JR., United States Attorney (TOMASINA DiGRIGOLI, Special Assistant United States Attorney, of Counsel), Buffalo, New York, 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 dated April 16, 2014 (Item 8).
Plaintiff Robert Ware initiated this action on August 29, 2013, pursuant to the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) ("the Act"), for judicial review of the final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying plaintiff's application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB"). Both parties have moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure ( see Items 7, 11). For the following reasons, the Commissioner's motion is granted, and plaintiff's motion is denied.
Plaintiff was born on December 7, 1953 (Tr. 44). He filed an application for DIB on February 24, 2010, alleging disability due to Achilles tendon, knee, shoulder, and prostrate problems, and hypertension, with an onset date of June 4, 2004 (Tr. 111-12; see also Tr. 11, 27). The application was denied administratively (Tr. 45-48), and plaintiff requested a hearing which was held before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Timothy M. McGuan on September 13, 2011 (Tr. 23-43). Plaintiff testified at the hearing, and was represented by counsel. Vocational Expert ("VE") Jay Steinbrenner also testified.
In a decision issued on December 19, 2011, ALJ McGuan found that plaintiff was not disabled under the Act (Tr. 11-17). Following the sequential evaluation process outlined in the Social Security Administration Regulations ( see 20 C.F.R. § 416.920), the ALJ reviewed the medical evidence in the record and determined that although plaintiff's Achilles tendon deformity constituted a "severe" impairment, it did not meet or medically equal any of the impairments listed at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (the "Listings") (Tr. 13-14). Additionally, the ALJ determined that plaintiff's other impairments were either not severe or occurred after the date plaintiff was last insured for Social Security purposes (Tr. 13-14). The ALJ discussed the testimony and documentary evidence regarding plaintiff's complaints of pain and other symptoms, including treatment notes from plaintiff's orthopedic surgeon and other treating physicians, and determined that plaintiff is capable of performing past relevant work as a mail handler and teacher's aide, and had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") for the full range of medium work, as defined in the Regulations (Tr. 14-16). Additionally, the ALJ relied on the VE's testimony indicating that an individual of plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC would be able to perform the requirements of a significant number of jobs existing in the national and local economies (Tr. 16). In reliance on Rules 203.22 and 203.15 of the Medical-Vocational Guidelines, 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 2 (the "Grids"), the ALJ determined that plaintiff has not been disabled within the meaning of the Act at any time from May 20, 2004 through December 31, 2009, the date last insured (Tr. 17).
The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner on April 23, 2013, when the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review (Tr. 1-4), and this action followed.
In his motion for judgment on the pleadings, plaintiff contends that the Commissioner's determination should be reversed because the ALJ (1) failed to properly assess plaintiff's credibility with regard to his complaints of pain; and (2) substituted his own opinion for medical expert opinion. See Item 7. The government contends that the Commissioner's determination should be affirmed because the ALJ's decision is based on substantial evidence. See Item 11-1.
I. Scope of Judicial Review
The Social Security Act provides that, upon district court review of the Commissioner's decision, "[t]he findings of the Commissioner... as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive...." 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence is defined as evidence which "a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938), quoted in Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); see also Tejada v. Apfel, 167 F.3d 770, 773-74 (2d Cir. 1999). The substantial evidence test applies not only to findings on basic evidentiary facts, but also to inferences and conclusions drawn from the facts. Giannasca v. Astrue, 2011 WL 4445141, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 26, 2011) (citing Rodriguez v. Califano, 431 F.Supp. 421, 423 (S.D.N.Y. 1977)).
Under these standards, the scope of judicial review of the Commissioner's decision is limited, and the reviewing court may not try the case de novo or substitute its findings for those of the Commissioner. Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401; see also Cage v. Comm'r of Soc. Servs., 692 F.3d 118, 122 (2d Cir. 2012). The court's inquiry is "whether the record, read as a whole, yields such evidence as would allow a reasonable mind to accept the conclusions reached" by the Commissioner. Sample ...