United States District Court, Eastern District of New York
For the Plaintiff: CHARLES E. BINDER, ESQ.
For the Defendant: LORETTA E. LYNCH, ESQ. United States Attorney
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
FREDERIC BLOCK, Senior United States District Judge
Wadiya Blaylock (“Blaylock”) seeks review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying her application for disability benefits under the Social Security Act (the “Act”). Both parties move for judgment on the pleadings. For the reasons stated below, the Commissioner’s motion is denied and Blaylock’s motion is granted insofar as the case is remanded for further proceedings.
In November 2011, Blaylock filed applications for Supplemental Security Income and Disability Insurance Benefits. In both applications, she alleged disability, as of October 1, 2006, from left hip and lower back pain. After the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denied her applications, Blaylock had a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on March 11, 2013.
In a decision dated March 25, 2013, the ALJ determined that Blaylock was not disabled. Applying the familiar five-step evaluation process,  the ALJ found that: (1) Blaylock had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 1, 2010; (2) her left hip disorder and lumbar spine disorder qualified as severe impairments; and (3) her impairments did not meet or medically equal the criteria of an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. The ALJ then determined that Blaylock had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a full range of sedentary work. Applying that RFC to the remaining steps, the ALJ found (4) that Blaylock was unable to perform her past relevant work as a clerical worker, but (5) that she was able to perform other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy.
The Appeals Council denied her request for review, rendering final the Commissioner’s decision to deny benefits. Blaylock timely sought judicial review.
“In reviewing the final decision of the Commissioner, a district court must determine whether the correct legal standards were applied and whether substantial evidence supports the decision.” Butts v. Barnhart, 388 F.3d 377, 384 (2d Cir. 2004); see also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). “[S]ubstantial evidence . . . 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); see also Selian v. Astrue, 708 F.3d 409, 417 (2d Cir. 2013). Blaylock contends that the ALJ’s RFC determination is flawed because it (1) failed to accord appropriate weight to the opinion of her treating physician, and (2) is not based on substantial evidence. Blaylock also argues that the ALJ improperly evaluated her credibility. The Court will address each argument in turn.
A. Evaluation of Blaylock’s Residual Functional Capacity
Blaylock maintains that the ALJ violated the treating physician rule by discounting the opinion of her treating physiatrist, Dr. Ledon, in determining her RFC. This argument is unavailing. A treating source’s opinion regarding a claimant’s RFC – as opposed to the nature and severity of a claimant’s impairment – is not entitled to controlling weight. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(d)(2) (“Although we consider opinions from medical sources on issues such as . . . your residual functional capacity . . . the final responsibility for deciding these issues is reserved to the Commissioner.”); see also Snell v. Apfel, 177 F.3d 128, 133 (2d Cir. 1999) (“A treating physician’s statement that a claimant is disabled cannot itself be determinative.”). Accordingly, the ALJ did not violate the treating physician rule by dismissing Dr. Ledon’s opinion because the ALJ retained final authority over the RFC determination.
However, the Court agrees that the ALJ’s RFC determination is not supported by substantial evidence. The ALJ found that Blaylock has the RFC to perform a full range of sedentary work. In making this finding, the ALJ relied on the medical reports of two doctors – Dr. Ledon and Dr. Wolf, the SSA’s consultative examiner.
Dr. Ledon began treating Blaylock in December 2010. On March 8, 2013, he completed a Spinal Impairment Questionnaire in which he diagnosed Blaylock with lumbar spine discogenic pain and lumbar radiculopathy. He opined that Blaylock is limited to lifting 20 pounds, sitting for 3 hours in an 8-hour period, and standing/walking for 2 hours in an 8-hour period. He further maintained that Blaylock requires ...