United States District Court, W.D. New York
LAW OFFICES OF KENNETH HILLER (KENNETH R. HILLER, ESQ.) Amherst, New York, for Plaintiff.
WILLIAM J. HOCHUL, JR., United States Attorney, (RICHARD D. KAUFMAN, 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 April 23, 2015 (Item 17).
Plaintiff Gregory Saxon initiated this action on February 14, 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 Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits under Title 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 8, 10). For the following reasons, plaintiff's motion is DENIED, and the Commissioner's motion is GRANTED.
Plaintiff was born on April 3, 1953 (Tr. 133). He protectively filed an application for SSI benefits on September 28, 2009, alleging disability due to psychotic disorder and depression, with an onset date of November 15, 2007 (Tr. 133, 146). The application was denied administratively on December 22, 2009 (Tr. 81-84). Plaintiff then requested a hearing, which was held on April 20, 2011, before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Bruce R. Mazzarella (Tr. 29-76). Plaintiff appeared and testified at the hearing, and was represented by counsel. A vocational expert ("VE") also appeared and testified.
On May 10, 2011, the ALJ issued a decision finding that plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act (Tr. 14-25). 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 (depression, anxiety, psychotic disorder, and polysubstance abuse in remission) 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. 16-18). The ALJ discussed the evidence in the record, including medical records, reports from treating and consultative medical sources, and plaintiff's hearing testimony, and determined that plaintiff has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels with the non-exertional limitation that plaintiff is limited to simple, repetitive, routine tasks in a low contact, low stress environment (Tr. 18-23). Relying on the VE's testimony, the ALJ determined that plaintiff was capable of performing work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy and thus has not been disabled within the meaning of the Act at any time since the application was filed (Tr. 24).
The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner on December 21, 2012, when the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review (Tr. 1-4), 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 RFC determination was not based on substantial evidence, and (2) the ALJ erred in relying on the VE's testimony. See Items 10-1, 16. 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 8-1, 14.
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 ...