United States District Court, W.D. New York
DECISION AND ORDER
MICHAEL A. TELESCA, District Judge.
John Snyder("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 supplemental security income ("SSI") 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 October 12, 2010, plaintiff filed an application for SSI alleging disability as of August 2, 2008. Administrative Transcript ("T.") 152-157. Following an initial denial of that application on January 3, 2011, plaintiff testified at a hearing, held at his request on April 3, 2012, before administrative law judge ("ALJ") Michael Devlin. T. 49-72, 78. An unfavorable decision was issued on August 31, 2012, and a request for review was denied by the Appeals Council on October 28, 2013. T. 1-6, 24-41.
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, inter alia, the following findings: (1) plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the October 12, 2010 application date; (2) his musculoskeletal ligamentous, lumbar degenerative disc disease, bipolar disorder, intermittent explosive disorder, and antisocial personality disorder were severe impairments; (3) 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 (20 CFR 416.920[d], 416.925, 416.926); and (4) plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 416967(a) with the following limitations: occasionally lift and/or carry 10 pounds and frequently lift and/or carry less than 10 pounds; stand and/or walk for at least two hours and sit for about six hours in an eight-hour work day; occasionally push and/or pull 10 pounds; occasionally climb ramps and/or stairs, balance, stoop, kneel crouch, and crawl; rarely climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; understand, remember, and carry out simple instructions and task; occasionally interact with coworkers and supervisors; little to no contact with the general public; and consistently maintain concentration and focus up to two hours at a time. T. 29-34. The ALJ further found that plaintiff had no past relevant work and that, at 40 years old, plaintiff was defined under the Act as a younger individual aged 18-44 years T. 29-31.
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, at the Commissioner's request, plaintiff underwent a psychiatric evaluation on January 9, 2010 by Dr. Christine Ransom. T. 310-313. Dr. Ransom noted that plaintiff received outpatient treatment for bipolar disorder while in jail from September 2009 to November 2009, but he had no hospitalization history. T. 310. Since then, plaintiff received medication for bipolar disorder from his primary care physician. T. 310. Plaintiff reported that his medication caused him to sleep about 15 hours a day and that he continued to become angry very quickly. T. 310. He also reported manic episodes and mood swings that prevented him from keeping friends and racing thoughts. T. 311.
Dr. Ransom noted that, during her examination, plaintiff was dressed neatly with adequate hygiene and grooming. T. 311. His speech was intelligible, and his voice was clear and moderately pressured. T. 311. He was coherent with no evidence of hallucinations, delusions, or paranoia. T. 311. Dr. Ransom further noted that: plaintiff's concentration and immediate memory were mildly to moderately impaired by mood disturbances; and his intellectual functioning was average; his insight and judgment were good. T. 311-312. Dr. Ransom diagnosed plaintiff with drug and alcohol dependance, currently in remission, moderate bipolar disorder, and lower back pain. T. 313. She opined that plaintiff: could follow simple directions and instructions; could independently perform simple tasks; maintain a simple, regular schedule and learn new, simple tasks; had moderate difficultly performing complex tasks, relating adequately to others and appropriately dealing with stress due to his moderate bipolar disorder. T. 312. State agency psychologists, Drs. Charles and Harding reviewed plaintiff's file in January and February 2010. T. 320-322, 339-353. Dr. Charles's assessment of plaintiff's mental residual functional capacity ("RFC") essentially adopted Dr. Ransom's findings. T. 322. Dr. Harding ...