United States District Court, W.D. New York
KEVIN R. CLINE, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
LEWIS L. SCHWARTZ, PLLC (LEWIS L. SCHWARTZ, ESQ., ) Buffalo, New York, for Plaintiff.
WILLIAM J. HOCHUL, JR., United States Attorney, (SUSAN REISS, Special Assistant United States Attorney, of Counsel), Buffalo, New York, for Defendant.
JOHN T. CURTIN, District Judge.
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 13).
Plaintiff Kevin R. Cline initiated this action on October 21, 2013 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") under Title II 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 7, 11). For the following reasons, plaintiff's motion is GRANTED, and the Commissioner's motion is DENIED.
Plaintiff was born on April 10, 1963 (Tr. 162). He protectively filed an application for DIB on September 17, 2010, alleging disability due to cervical impairment, toxoplasmosis, and migraine headaches, with an onset date of December 31, 2009 (Tr. 162, 175). The claims were denied initially on November 29, 2010 (Tr. 102-06). Plaintiff then requested a hearing, which was held on February 8, 2012, before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Bruce R. Mazzarella (Tr. 32-85). Plaintiff appeared and testified at the hearing, and was represented by counsel. A vocational expert ("VE") also testified.
On March 22, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision finding that plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act (Tr. 21-28). Following the sequential evaluation process outlined in the Social Security Administration regulations ( see 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520), the ALJ found that plaintiff's impairments (neck pain and obesity), 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 toxoplasmosis, migraine headaches, depression, and anxiety were not severe impairments (Tr. 23-24). The ALJ discussed the evidence in the record, including plaintiff's history of cervical disc replacement surgery, medical records, diagnostic tests, reports of consultative examiners, and plaintiff's hearing testimony. He determined that plaintiff was capable of performing his past relevant work as a supervisor of janitorial services (Tr. 28) and has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work with certain non-exertional limitations (Tr. 24). Specifically, the ALJ found that plaintiff could sit, stand, and walk for an eight-hour workday with normal breaks and could lift up to 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. Id. He should not work with his arms above head level, should not engage in repetitive neck motion, and should avoid loud work environments. Id. Accordingly, the ALJ found that plaintiff has not been under a disability from the onset date through the date of the decision (Tr. 28).
The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner on August 20, 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 failed to properly consider plaintiff's past relevant work; (2) the ALJ erred in failing to consider all of plaintiff's impairments in formulating the RFC; (3) the ALJ erred in his assessment of the medical opinion evidence; and (4) the ALJ erred in his assessment of plaintiff's credibility. See Items 7-1, 12. 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 11.
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 conclusions drawn from the facts. Giannasca v. Astrue, 2011 WL 4445141, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 26, 2011) (citing Rodriguez v. Califano, 431 F.Supp. 421, 423 (S.D.N.Y. 1977)).
Under these standards, the scope of judicial review of the Commissioner's decision is limited, and the reviewing court may not try the case de novo or substitute its findings for those of the Commissioner. Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401; see also Cage v. Comm'r of Soc. Servs., 692 F.3d 118, 122 (2d Cir. 2012). The court's inquiry is "whether the record, read as a whole, yields such evidence as would allow a reasonable mind to accept the conclusions reached" by the Commissioner. Sample ...