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Clark-Gyllenboga v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. New York

May 7, 2015

PAMELA J. CLARK-GYLLENBOGA, as administrator of the Estate of Michael Clark, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

DECISION and ORDER

MICHAEL A. TELESCA, District Judge.

INTRODUCTION

Pamela J. Clark-Gyllenboga ("Plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)on behalf of her deceased brother, Michael Clark ("Clark") seeking review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("the Commissioner") denying Clark's applications for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") and Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB").[1]

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. ##9, 11.

BACKGROUND

Clark filed applications for DIB and SSI on April 2, 2008, alleging disability since March 14, 2008, due to herniated discs and depression. T. 102-12, 138. His applications were initially denied, and a hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Timothy M. McGuan in Buffalo, New York on May 18, 2010. Clark, who appeared with counsel, testified before the ALJ. T. 29-38. After reviewing Clark's case, the ALJ found: (1) Clark did not engage in substantial gainful activity during the relevant period; (2) his substance abuse disorder, herniated disc in the lumbar spine, degenerative disc disease, facet degenerative changes, and drug and alcohol abuse with related depression were severe impairments within the meaning of the Regulations; (3) Clark's impairments, including substance abuse disorder, met Listings sections 12.09 and 12.04, 20 C.F.R., Part 404, Subpart P, Appx. 2, and that Clark was disabled. T. 14-15.

The ALJ further found that Clark's substance abuse was a contributing factor material to a finding of disability, and therefore he was not entitled to receive DIB or SSI in accordance with 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2)(C), 1382c(3)(J). The ALJ found that had Clark stopped his alcohol abuse, he would still have severe impairments, but would not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or equaled the Listings, and would retain the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform the full range of light work. T. 15-16. He then found that Clark could not perform his past relevant work as a truck driver because the exertional requirements of that job exceeded his RFC. The ALJ concluded that based on Clark's age, education, and RFC, there would be a significant number of jobs in the national economy that he could perform, and Medical-Vocational Guidelines directed a finding of not disabled. T. 23-24.

An unfavorable decision was issued on July 16, 2010. T. 11-24. The ALJ's determination became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied Clark's request for review on April 11, 2012. T. 1-4. This action followed. Dkt. #1.

The Commissioner moves for judgment on the pleadings on the grounds that substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's final decision that Clark was not disabled during the period at issue. Comm'r Mem. (Dkt. #10) 1-24. Plaintiff has filed a cross-motion alleging that the ALJ erred in properly evaluating and weighing the medical opinion evidence, and did not properly assess Clark's subjective complaints. Pl. Mem. (Dkt. #11-1) 14-18.

For the following reasons, the Commissioner's motion is granted, and the Plaintiff's cross-motion is denied.

DISCUSSION

I. Scope of Review

A federal court should set aside an ALJ decision to deny disability benefits only where it is based on legal error or is not supported by substantial evidence. Balsamo v. Chater, 142 F.3d 75, 79 (2d Cir. 1998). "Substantial evidence means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Green-Younger v. Barnhart, 335 F.3d 99, 106 (2d Cir. 2003) (internal quotation marks omitted).

II. Standard for Entitlement to Benefits

To establish disability under the Social Security Act, a claimant bears the burden of demonstrating (1) that she has been unable to engage in substantial gainful activity by reason of a physical or mental impairment that has lasted or could have been expected to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months, and (2) that the existence of such impairment has been demonstrated by evidence supported by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory techniques. 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3); see also Barnhart v. Walton, 535 U.S. 212, 215 (2002).

In determining whether or not an individual is disabled, the Social Security Administration requires the ALJ to engage in the following five-step evaluation:

(1) if the claimant is performing substantial gainful work, he is not disabled;
(2) if the claimant is not performing substantial gainful work, his impairment(s) must be "severe" before he can be found disabled;
(3) if the claimant is not performing substantial gainful work and has a "severe" impairment(s) that has lasted or is expected to last for a continuous period of at least 12 months, and if the impairment(s) meets or medically equals a listed impairment contained in Appendix 1, Subpart P, ...

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