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Hoke v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. New York

June 25, 2015

TODD S. HOKE, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

STEVEN R. DOLSON, ESQ., LAW OFFICES OF STEVEN R. DOLSON, Counsel for Plaintiff Syracuse, New York, of Counsel.



GLENN T. SUDDABY, District Judge.

Currently before the Court, in this action filed by Todd S. Hoke ("Plaintiff") against the Commissioner of Social Security ("Defendant" or "Commissioner") pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking Social Security disability insurance benefits, are the following: (1) the Report-Recommendation of United States Magistrate Judge Christian F. Hummel, issued pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A) and (B) and Local Rule 72.3(c) of the Local Rules of Practice for this Court recommending that the Commissioner's determination denying disability insurance benefits be affirmed; and (2) Plaintiff's Objection to the Report-Recommendation. (Dkt. Nos. 14, 16.)


A. Relevant Procedural History

On October 19, 2011, Plaintiff filed a Title II application for a period of disability and disability benefits and protectively filed a Title XVI application for social security insurance under the Social Security Act. Generally, in his applications, Plaintiff alleges that he suffers from lumbar spine impairments, right hip trochanteric bursitis, major depressive disorder, and anxiety disorders with a disability onset date of January 1, 2010.[1] On January 17, 2012, Plaintiff's applications were initially denied by the Social Security Administration. Subsequently, he filed an appeal from that denial; and on November 27, 2012, a hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") of the Social Security Administration. On February 15, 2013, the ALJ issued his decision finding that Plaintiff was not entitled to benefits. Again, Plaintiff filed an appeal from that decision; on May 8, 2014, the Social Security Administration's Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for further review, rendering the ALJ's decision final.

On April 17, 2015, Plaintiff commenced this action in federal court. Generally, in his brief in support of his Complaint, Plaintiff asserts the following four arguments: (1) that the ALJ committed reversible error by failing to properly assess Plaintiff's use of an assistive device (specifically, a cane); (2) that the ALJ committed reversible error by failing to call a vocational expert, despite the numerous non-exertional impairments that Plaintiff has in addition to needing a cane for balance; (3) that the ALJ committed reversible error in interpreting Plaintiff's Global Assessment of Function ("GAF") score; and (4) that the ALJ committed reversible error in assessing Plaintiff's credibility. Generally, in his responsive brief, Defendant disagrees with each of these arguments, and argues that the Commissioner's decision should be affirmed.

B. Magistrate Judge Hummel's Report-Recommendation

On April 17, 2015, Magistrate Judge Hummel issued a Report-Recommendation recommending that the Commissioner's decision denying Plaintiff disability benefits be affirmed. (Dkt. No. 14.) Generally, Magistrate Judge Hummel's Report-Recommendation rendered the following findings of fact and conclusions of law: (1) the ALJ based his residual functional capacity ("RFC") determination on substantial evidence in the record after reviewing both treating and consultative examiner reports, finding that Plaintiffs cane is not medically prescribed and finding that testimony by a vocational expert is not required under SSR 96-9; (2) because the ALJ properly considered Plaintiff's nonexertional limitations but did not find that they significantly diminished his ability to work, he did not need testimony of a vocational expert regarding nonexertional impairments but could resort to the applicable medical vocational guidelines; (3) the ALJ afforded appropriate weight to the opinion of Plaintiff's physician assistant and properly assessed Plaintiff's GAF score based on all of the medical evidence in the record; and (4) the ALJ properly assessed the medical records and Plaintiff's statements as to his daily activities and work history in making a credibility determination. ( Id. at Part II.D.)

C. Plaintiff's Objections to the Report-Recommendation

On April 28, 2015, Plaintiff filed his Objection to the Report-Recommendation. (Dkt.

No. 16.) In his Objection, Plaintiff asserts the following two arguments: (1) the arguments set forth in his memorandum of law in support of his underlying motion for judgment on the pleadings are incorporated by reference in the Objection; and (2) because the services of a vocational specialist may be necessary where (as here) the effects of a person's actual limitations of climbing and balancing on the occupational ...

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