United States District Court, W.D. New York
MICHAEL A. TELESCA, District Judge.
Plaintiff Zachary Bull ("Plaintiff"), who is represented by counsel, brings this action pursuant to the Social Security Act ("the Act"), seeking review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("the Commissioner") denying his application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). This Court has jurisdiction over the matter pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c). Presently before the Court are the parties' motions for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Dkt. ##8, 10.
Plaintiff applied for SSI on October 3, 2011, alleging disability beginning July 24, 2008 due to Spinocerebellar Ataxia ("SCA"), severe leg pain, depression, and bipolar disorder. T. 36-46, 120-24, 144-45. His claim was initially denied on January 19, 2012, and a hearing was requested before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on February 2, 2012. T. 89-91. Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified at a hearing on June 26, 2012 before ALJ Timothy Trost in Buffalo, New York. T. 31-51. A written decision was issued on July 10, 2012, finding that Plaintiff was not disabled. T. 22-30.
In applying the familiar five-step sequential analysis, as contained in the administrative regulations promulgated by the Social Security Administration ("SSA"),  the ALJ found that (1) Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since October 3, 2011; (2) he suffered from the severe impairment of SCA and non-severe impairments of myopic astigmatism, affective disorder, anxiety disorder, and substance addiction disorder;
(3) his severe impairment did not meet or equal the Listings set forth at 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, Appx. 1, and Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform the exertional demands of sedentary work with limitations in standing and walking (2 hours), sitting (6 hours), lifting and carrying 10 pounds, and occasional breaks with respect to repetitive grasping; (4) Plaintiff had no past relevant work; and
(5) Plaintiff was cable of making an adjustment to other work in national economy, resulting in a finding of no disability. T. 22-30.
The ALJ's determination became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on November 20, 2012, T. 4-6. Plaintiff then filed this action seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Dkt.#1.
The Commissioner moves for judgment on the pleadings on the grounds that the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence, and was made in accordance with applicable law. Comm'r Mem. (Dkt.#8-1) 11-15. Plaintiff's motion alleges that the ALJ's decision is erroneous because it is not supported by substantial evidence contained in the record, or is legally deficient, and therefore he is entitled to judgment on the pleadings. Pl. Mem. (Dkt.#10-1) 7-19.
For the following reasons, Plaintiff's motion is denied, and the Commissioner's motion is granted.
I. General Legal Principles
42 U.S.C. § 405(g) grants jurisdiction to district courts to hear claims based on the denial of Social Security benefits. Section 405(g) provides that the District Court "shall have the power to enter, upon the pleadings and transcript of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing." 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2007). The section directs that when considering such a claim, the Court must accept the findings of fact made by the Commissioner, provided that such findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record. evidence is defined as "more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'" Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)); see also Metro. Stevedore Co. v. Rambo, 521 U.S. 121, 149 (1997).
When determining whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence, the Court's task is "to examine the entire record, including contradictory evidence and evidence from which conflicting inferences can be drawn." Brown v. Apfel, 174 F.3d 59, 62 (2d Cir. 1999) (quoting Mongeur v. Heckler, 722 F.2d 1033, 1038 (2d Cir. 1983) (per curiam)). Section 405(g) limits the scope of the Court's review to two inquiries: determining whether the Commissioner's findings were supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole, and whether the Commissioner's conclusions are based upon an erroneous legal standard. Green-Younger v. Barnhart, 335 F.3d 99, 105-06 (2d Cir. 2003); see also Mongeur, 722 F.2d at 1038 (finding a reviewing court does not try a benefits case de novo).
Under Rule 12(c), judgment on the pleadings may be granted where the material facts are undisputed and where judgment on the merits is possible merely by considering the contents of the pleadings. Sellers v. M.C. Floor Crafters, Inc., 842 F.2d 639, 642 (2d Cir. 1988). A party's motion will be dismissed if, after a review of the pleadings, the Court is convinced that the party does set out factual allegations that are "enough to raise a right to relief beyond the speculative level." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007).
II. Medical Evidence
A. Medical Evidence Prior to the ...