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Ackley v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. New York

April 27, 2015

SAMUEL M. ACKLEY, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING Commissioner OF Social Security, Defendant.


MICHAEL A. TELESCA, District Judge.

Samuel Ackley("plaintiff"), brings this action under Title II of the Social Security Act ("the Act"), claiming that the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner" or "defendant") improperly denied his applications for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under the Social Security Act.

Currently before the Court are the parties' competing motions for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons set forth below, plaintiff's motion is denied and defendant's motion is granted.


On December 14, 2010, plaintiff filed an application for DIB alleging disability as of September 17, 2009 due to right shoulder tendonitis and back pain. Administrative Transcript ("T.") 121-123, 148. Following an initial denial of that application on January 25, 2011, plaintiff testified at a video hearing that was held at his request on February 29, 2012 before administrative law judge ("ALJ") Scott M. Staller. T. 20-28. An unfavorable decision was issued on April 27, 2012, and a request for review was denied by the Appeals Council on October 15, 2013. T. 1, 28.

Considering the case de novo and applying the five-step analysis contained in the Social Security Administration's regulations ( see 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920), the ALJ made the following findings: (1) plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through December 31, 2013 (2) he had not engage in substantial gainful activity since September 17, 2009, the date of the onset of his alleged disability; (3) his right shoulder tendonitis and obesity were severe impairments; (4) his impairments, singly or combined, did not meet or medically equal the severity of any impairments listed in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1; and (5) plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) with the following limitations sit or stand every thirty minutes without leaving work station; frequently climb ramps or stairs, but never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; frequently balance and occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl; unable to reach overhead with both upper extremities; avoid concentrated exposure to dangerous moving machinery and unprotected heights. T. 22-23.

The Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ's decision, and this action ensued. T 1.


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). This 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.

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: 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. See Green-Younger v. Barnhart, 335 F.3d 99, 105-106 (2d Cir. 2003).

II. Relevant Medical Evidence

The record reflects that plaintiff has been treated for right shoulder pain by Dr. Todd Stein and physician's assistant Raymond Montanaro at Greater Rochester Orthopaedics since September 17, 2009. T. 200. Plaintiff reported severe pain in his shoulder caused by repetitive overhead motions and lifting. T. 269. Plaintiff was diagnosed with right rotator cuff tendonitis and right biceps tendonitis resulting from receptive use at work, which consisted of unloading diary pallets at Walmart. T. 200, 202. Plaintiff was initially treated with cortisone injections, physical therapy, and pain medication. T. 202, 204, 207, 238-245. An MRI did not demonstrate a rotator cuff tear, but it did show symptomatic inflammation in plaintiff's acromioclavicular joint with degeneration and a hooked anterior acromion. T. 204, 208, 224, 240, 265-268.

In May 2010, plaintiff was examined by Dr. Steven Hausmann at the request of plaintiff's workers' compensation insurance carrier. T. 231-234. Dr. Hausmann opined that the severe pain report by plaintiff with shoulder mobility was "totally inconsistent" with his diagnosis of a degenerative acromioclavicular joint. T. 233. During his examination, Dr. Hausmann noted that plaintiff's range of motion in his shoulder was quite limited, but ...

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