United States District Court, N.D. New York
STEVEN R. DOLSON, ESQ., LAW OFFICES OF STEVEN R. DOLSON, Syracuse, New York, Attorneys for Plaintiff,
JOANNE JACKSON PENGELLY, ESQ., SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Office of Regional General Counsel, Region II, New York, New York, Attorneys for Defendant.
MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER
MAE A. D'AGOSTINO, District Judge.
Plaintiff brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking judicial review of the Commissioner of Social Security's ("Commissioner") decision to deny his application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"). This matter was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Andrew T. Baxter for a Report-Recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Rule 72.3(d). Magistrate Judge Baxter recommended that this Court affirm the Commissioner's decision denying Plaintiff's application for DIB. See Dkt. No. 15. Presently before the Court are Plaintiff's objections to the Report-Recommendation. See Dkt. No. 16.
Plaintiff was thirty-seven years old on October 1, 1997, the date that disability was alleged to have started. See Dkt. No. 8, Administrative Transcript ("T."), at 92-95. Up until that date, Plaintiff had performed construction and carpentry work, which included, among other things, the framing and installation of windows. See id. at 33. Plaintiff was married in 1977 and has three adult children. See id. at 44, 92. He completed his formal education through ninth grade in regular education classes. See id. at 38, 115, 281.
In 1985, Plaintiff had an accident at work and the tips of the middle and ring finger of his dominant hand were amputated. See id. at 18, 266. The amputation affects his ability to hold a writing instrument, but Plaintiff did not describe any limitation in his ability to perform construction work due to that injury. See id. at 40. In 1996, Plaintiff underwent back surgery but continued to have pain, and ultimately stopped working in 1997. See id. at 92, 98. Plaintiff was unsuccessful in an attempt to return to his work in construction in 1999. See id. at 37, 115. Plaintiff also worked briefly as a self-employed carpenter in 2006. See id. at 34, 213.
Plaintiff protectively filed for DIB on December 26, 2010, alleging a disability beginning on October 1, 1997. See id. at 92-95. The application was initially denied on May 27, 2011, see id. at 54-57, and Plaintiff requested a hearing, which was held by video on September 12, 2012 before Administrative Law Judge Marie Greener ("ALJ"). See id. at 26-46. The ALJ issued a decision on October 18, 2012 finding that despite severe impairments - degenerative disc disease and amputation of the tips of some fingers of the right hand - Plaintiff was not disabled from October 1, 1997 through March 31, 2003, the insured period, within the meaning of the Social Security Act. See id. at 15-22. Request for review by the Appeals Council was timely filed on November 30, 2012. See id. at 10-11. The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commission when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on December 6, 2013. See id. at 1-3. Plaintiff commenced this action for judicial review of that decision by filing a complaint on January 23, 2014. See Dkt. No. 1. Both parties have moved for judgment on the pleadings. See Dkt. Nos. 12, 14.
A. The Standard of Review
In a judicial review of a final decision by the Commissioner under 42 U.S.C. § 405, the Court does not determine anew whether a plaintiff 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 Court must examine the administrative transcript to ascertain whether the correct legal standards were applied and whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence. See Lamay v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 562 F.3d 503, 507 (2d Cir. 2009); Schaal v. Apfel, 134 F.3d 496, 500-01 (2d Cir. 1998). "Substantial evidence" is evidence that amounts to "more than a mere scintilla, " and it 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 (1971) (citations and quotations omitted).
"To determine on appeal whether an ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence, a reviewing court considers the whole record, examining the evidence from both sides, because an analysis of the substantiality of the evidence must also include that which detracts from its weight." Williams v. Bowen, 859 F.2d 255, 258 (2d Cir. 1988). If supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's finding must be sustained. See Rosado v. Sullivan, 805 F.Supp. 147, 153 (S.D.N.Y. 1992). This Court must afford the Commissioner's determination considerable deference, and may not substitute its own judgment, even if a different result could be justifiably reached by the Court if it engaged in its own analysis. Valente v. Sec'y of Health and Human Servs., 733 F.2d 1037, 1041 (2d Cir. 1984).
For purposes of both DIB, a person is disabled when he is unable "to engage in substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. §§ ...