United States District Court, W.D. New York
MICHAEL T. KARAM, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner OF Social Security, Defendant.
DECISION AND ORDER
MICHAEL A. TELESCA, District Judge.
Michael Karam ("plaintiff") brings this action under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act ("the Act"), claiming that the Commissioner of Social Security (the "Commissioner" or "defendant") improperly denied his applications for disability insurance benefits ("DBI") and supplemental security income ("SSI").
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 January 26, 2011, plaintiff filed an application for DIB and SSI alleging disability as of April 28, 2006 due to post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD"), carpal tunnel syndrome, arthritis, depression, anxiety, rage, and pain in his left side, wrist, and ankle. Administrative Transcript ("T.") 141-150. Following a denial of that application on May 31, 2011, plaintiff testified at a hearing held at his request on September 5, 2012 before administrative law judge ("ALJ") Bruce Fein. T. 27-64.
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 last met the insured status requirements of the Act through September 30, 2006; (2) he had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 18, 2006, the date of the onset of his alleged disability; (3) his degenerative disc disease, depressive disorder NOS and PTSD 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) and 416.967(b) with the following limitations: he can lift and carry up to 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; he can sit for at least six hours and stand or walk for at least six hours in an eight-hour work day; he can perform the postural limitations of crouching and stooping occasionally; and he can have contact with supervisors occasionally. T. 14-16.
With respect to finding number four, the ALJ found that plaintiff's physical and mental impairments did not meet or equal the criteria for any impairment in Listings 12.04, 12.06, 12.08, and 12.09. T. 15. The ALJ further found that plaintiff's mental impairments did not meet the "paragraph B" criteria, which requires at least two marked limitations or one marked limitation and repeated episodes of decompensation. T. 16.
An unfavorable decision was issued by the ALJ, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review. T. 1. This action ensued.
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) (2007). The 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 relevant period began when plaintiff was admitted the emergency department following a motor vehicle accident on April 18, 2006, and he reported severe pain in his left-side chest and pelvic areas and his neck, and was diagnosed with a left-sided rib fracture. T. 262-266, 275, 277-279, 281. Upon discharge, plaintiff was prescribed Percocet for his pain and cleared to return to work in one week. T. 284
Plaintiff was treated by several doctors at the Big Flats Clinic from April 26, 2006 to October 25, 2006. T. 289-302. Despite having consistent low back pain throughout most of his treatment, with periodic complaints of nose, jaw, chest, neck, left hand, left ankle and right foot pain and a right inguinal hernia diagnosis, by October 11, 2006, plaintiff reported that he was "starting to feel better" with occasional discomfort in the shoulder, tingling in the hands, and tightness in the low back. T. 290-302. He was engaging in "more of his activities of daily living successfully." T. 290. On October 26, 2006, plaintiff had "stable complaints, " including right trapezius and low back pain with morning spasms upon waking. T. 289. On June 30, 2006, Dr. Carlos Garcia noted that plaintiff was very anxious and agitated and that although he complained of being in great pain, plaintiff was not compliant with his medication, he skipped his appointment with the orthopedic doctor, and he did not return to the clinic for month. T. 297. X-ray imaging of plaintiff's spine revealed "degenerative changes at the L5/S1 level with narrowing of the disc space as well as sclerosis of the vertebral bodies, most likely on a degenerative basis." T. 303-304 On July 20, 2006, plaintiff was again "highly agitated, " but had "essentially no complaints." T. 295. He reported mowing his lawn for two to three hours and doing minor household repairs, which aggravated his back discomfort. T. 295.
On July 26, 2006, treatment notes reveal that plaintiff had improved in the cervical thoracic region and was stable in the low back area. T. 295. On August 9, 2006, plaintiff's primary complaint was hand stiffness and that he was not able to use his hands. T. 293. Dr. George Pokorny, an orthopedic surgeon, noted, however, that plaintiff's hands were soiled with dirt under his nails and he was freely moving his wrists and digits and exhibited normal range of motion ...