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Williams v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, N.D. New York

March 26, 2015

MATTHEW J. WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

HOWARD D. OLINSKY, ESQ., OLINSKY LAW GROUP, Counsel for Plaintiff, Syracuse, NY, MICHELLE L. CHRIST, ESQ., U.S. SOCIAL SECURITY ADMIN, OFFICE OF REG'L GEN. COUNSEL-REGION II, Counsel for Defendant, New York, NY.

DECISION and ORDER

GLENN T. SUDDABY, District Judge.

Currently before the Court, in this Social Security action filed by Matthew J. 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. 13, 21.) 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 December 3, 1983. He completed education through the eighth grade. Plaintiff also completed two years of training in heavy equipment operation repair but did not receive a certificate. Plaintiff's employment history consists of jobs as a factory laborer, truck driver, forklift operator, janitor, machine operator and stock worker. Generally, Plaintiff's alleged disability consists of lumbar disc disease, pulmonary embolism and depression. Plaintiff's alleged disability onset date is March 3, 2011 and his date last insured is March 31, 2011.

B. Procedural History

On December 30, 2011, Plaintiff applied for Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income. Plaintiff's application was initially denied, after which he timely requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("the ALJ"). On May 28, 2013, Plaintiff appeared before the ALJ, Edward I. Pitts. (T. 42-82.) The ALJ issued a written decision finding Plaintiff not disabled under the Social Security Act on June 28, 2013. (T. 22-41.) On December 19, 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 his decision, the ALJ made the following five findings of fact and conclusions of law. (T. 27-34.) First, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset date. (T. 27.) Second, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's Factor V clotting disorder, degenerative disc disease of the low back and depression with post traumatic stress disorder are severe impairments, but that his history of gallstones, gastroesophageal reflux disease, borderline intellectual functioning and marijuana abuse, in remission, are not severe. (T. 27-28.) Third, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's impairments do not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments located in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix. 1. (T. 28-30.) The ALJ considered Listings 1.04, 4.00, and 12.04. ( Id. ) Fourth, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b)[1] except that he needs to avoid occupational hazards due to a risk of falling and should be allowed to use a cane for ambulation on rough or uneven terrain due to balance issues. In addition, the ALJ found that Plaintiff is capable of performing all of the requirements of unskilled work. (T. 30-33.) Fifth, and finally, the ALJ determined that there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform. (T. 33-34.)

II. THE PARTIES' BRIEFINGS ON PLAINTIFF'S MOTION

A. Plaintiff's Arguments

Plaintiff makes three separate arguments in support of his motion for judgment on the pleadings. First, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's RFC determination is not supported by substantial evidence because (a) he failed to reconcile his RFC determination with the opinion provided by Dr. Ryan, and (b) he improperly discounted the opinion of Plaintiff's treating physician, Dr. Corey. (Dkt. No. 13 at 4-9 [Pl.'s Mem. of Law].) Second, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ improperly discounted his credibility. ( Id. at 9-11.) Third, and finally, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's finding at step five of the sequential analysis is not supported by substantial evidence. ( Id. at 11.)

B. Defendant's Arguments

In response, Defendant makes two arguments. First, Defendant argues that substantial evidence supports the ALJ's RFC finding. (Dkt. No. 21 at 6-10 [Def.'s Mem. of Law].) Second, and finally, Defendant argues that the ALJ properly determined that there are a significant number of jobs in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform. ( Id. at 11.)

III. RELEVANT LEGAL STANDARD

A. Standard of Review

A court reviewing a denial of disability benefits may not determine de novo whether an individual is disabled. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3); Wagner v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 906 F.2d 856, 860 (2d Cir. 1990). Rather, the Commissioner's determination will only be reversed if the correct legal standards were not applied, or it was not supported by substantial evidence. See Johnson v. Bowen, 817 F.2d 983, 986 (2d Cir. 1987) ("Where there is a reasonable basis for doubt whether the ALJ applied correct legal principles, application of the substantial evidence standard to uphold a finding of no disability creates an unacceptable risk that a claimant will be deprived of the right to have her disability determination made according to the correct legal principles."); Grey v. Heckler, 721 F.2d 41, 46 (2d Cir. 1983); Marcus v. Califano, 615 F.2d 23, 27 (2d Cir. 1979).

"Substantial evidence" is evidence that amounts to "more than a mere scintilla, " and has been defined as "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 1427 (1971). Where evidence is deemed susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the ...


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