United States District Court, W.D. New York
LAW OFFICES OF KENNETH HILLER (KENNETH HILLER, ESQ.) Amherst, New York, for Plaintiff.
WILLIAM J. HOCHUL, JR., United States Attorney (SIXTINA FERNANDEZ, Special Assistant United States Attorney, of Counsel), Buffalo, New York, for Defendant.
JOHN T. CURTIN,
This matter has been transferred to the undersigned for all further proceedings, by order of United States District Judge William M. Skretny dated December 15, 2014 (Item 15).
Plaintiff Michael Edward Lee initiated this action on November 25, 2014 pursuant to the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) ("the Act"), for judicial review of the final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying plaintiff's application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits under Titles II and XVI of the Act. Both parties have moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure ( see Items 9, 13). For the following reasons, plaintiff's motion is DENIED, and the Commissioner's motion is GRANTED.
Plaintiff was born on March 26, 1980 (Tr. 104, 111). He protectively filed an application for SSI and DIB on May 20, 2011, alleging disability due to diabetes and hypertension, with an onset date of May 25, 2009 (Tr. 126). The claims were denied initially on July 12, 2011 (Tr. 59-64). Plaintiff then requested a hearing, which was held on June 21, 2012, before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Robert T. Harvey (Tr. 29-50). Plaintiff appeared and testified at the hearing, and was represented by counsel.
On July 19, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision finding that plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act (Tr. 18-25). Following the sequential evaluation process outlined in the Social Security Administration regulations ( see 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920), the ALJ found that plaintiff's impairments (insulin dependent diabetes mellitus and diabetic neuropathy), while "severe, " did not meet or medically equal any of the impairments listed at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (the "Listings") (Tr. 20-21). Additionally, the ALJ found that plaintiff's headaches and hypertension were not severe impairments (Tr. 20). The ALJ discussed the evidence in the record, including medical records, the report of a consultative medical source, and plaintiff's hearing testimony. He determined that plaintiff was incapable of performing his past relevant work as a deli worker (Tr. 24) but has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work with certain non-exertional limitations (Tr. 21). Specifically, the ALJ found that plaintiff should not work around unprotected heights and heavy, moving, or dangerous machinery, and should avoid ropes, ladders, scaffolds and temperature extremes. Id. Using Medical-Vocational Rule 202.17 as a framework, the ALJ found that plaintiff could perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy and thus is not disabled within the meaning of the Act (Tr. 25).
The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner on October 24, 2013, when the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review (Tr. 1-5), and this action followed.
In his motion for judgment on the pleadings, plaintiff contends that the Commissioner's determination should be reversed because (1) the ALJ's RFC determination, based on the opinion of the consultative physician, was not supported by substantial evidence; (2) the ALJ erred in failing to obtain an opinion from plaintiff's treating physician regarding his RFC; and (3) the ALJ erred in his consideration of plaintiff's subjective complaints. See Items 9-1, 14. The government contends that the Commissioner's determination should be affirmed because the ALJ's decision was made in accordance with the pertinent legal standards and is based on substantial evidence. See Item 13-1.
I. Scope of Judicial Review
The Social Security Act provides that, upon district court review of the Commissioners decision, "[t]he findings of the Commissioner... as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive...." 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence is defined as evidence which "a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938), quoted in Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); see also Tejada v. Apfel, 167 F.3d 770, 773-74 (2d Cir. 1999). The substantial evidence test applies not only to findings on basic evidentiary facts, but also to inferences and ...