United States District Court, N.D. New York
FRANKIE HARRIS, PRO SE, Utica, NY.
U.S. SOCIAL SECURITY ADMIN. OFFICE OF REG'L GEN. COUNSEL - REGION II SIXTINA FERNANDEZ, ESQ., New York, NY, Counsel for Defendant.
DECISION and ORDER
GLENN T. SUDDABY, District Judge.
Currently before the Court, in this Social Security action filed by Frankie Harris ("Plaintiff") against the Commissioner of Social Security ("Defendant" or "the Commissioner") pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), are the parties' cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings. (Dkt. Nos. 18, 20.) For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's motion is denied and Defendant's motion is granted.
I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND
A. Factual Background
Plaintiff was born on April 8, 1982. (T. 61.) He completed 10th grade. (T. 141.) Generally, Plaintiff's alleged disability consists of mental illness, memory loss, depression, anxiety, and migraine headaches. (T. 140.) His alleged disability onset date is January 1, 1997. (T. 135.) He has no past relevant work. (T. 141.)
B. Procedural History
On October 19, 2010, Plaintiff applied Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. Plaintiff's application was initially denied, after which he timely requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("the ALJ"). On November 2, 2011, Plaintiff appeared before the ALJ, Robert C. Dorf. (T. 54-71.) On November 18, 2011, the ALJ issued a written decision finding Plaintiff not disabled under the Social Security Act. (T. 26-41.) On June 18, 2013, the Appeals Council ("AC") denied Plaintiff's request for review, rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (T. 1-7.) Thereafter, Plaintiff timely sought judicial review in this Court.
C. The ALJ's Decision
Generally, in his decision, the ALJ made the following five findings of fact and conclusions of law. (T. 31-37.) First, the ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since October 19, 2010, the date of the application. (T. 31.) Second, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the severe impairments of depression and mood disorder. ( Id. ) Third, the ALJ found Plaintiff did not have an impairment, or combination of impairments, that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments located in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix. 1. (T. 32.) Fourth, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform "medium work, " except he could perform "simple repetitive tasks at a low stress level meaning decision making [was] not required." (T. 33.) Fifth, the ALJ determined Plaintiff had no past relevant work; however, there were jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform. (T. 36-37.)
II. THE PARTIES' BRIEFINGS ON PLAINTIFF'S MOTION
A. Plaintiff's Arguments
Plaintiff appears pro se and filed a one page letter addressed to the Social Security Administration stating he is disabled and asking for assistance in his claim. (Dkt. No. 20.) In the absence of a Plaintiff's Brief, the Court assumes that the Plaintiff generally alleges that the ALJ committed legal error and that his decision was not supported by substantial evidence. Meglino v. Comm'r, 5:06-CV-968, 2008 WL 2097221, at *2 (N.D.N.Y. May, 19, 2008) (where pro se plaintiff failed to file a brief, the court assumed plaintiff alleged lack of substantial evidence and ALJ error). Plaintiff did have assistance of counsel when he requested review from the AC. In his request for review, Plaintiff made three arguments. (T. 170-173.) First, Plaintiff argued the ALJ improperly evaluated Plaintiff's RFC; specifically, he failed to account for effects of his severe mental impairment and the ALJ instead relied on his own lay interpretation of the evidence. (T. 170-171.) Second, Plaintiff argued the ALJ improperly evaluated the opinion evidence of Dr. Goldburt. (T. 172.) Third, Plaintiff argues the ALJ failed to obtain testimony from a vocational expert ("VE"). ( Id. ) The arguments made to the AC will also be addressed by this Court.
B. Defendant's Arguments
Defendant makes essentially three arguments. First, Defendant argues substantial evidence supported the ALJ's finding that Plaintiff had the RFC to perform medium work limited to simple repetitive tasks with no decision making required. (Dkt. No. 18 at 12-16 [Def.'s Mem. of Law].) Second, Defendant argues the ALJ correctly found that Plaintiff's subjective complaints were not credible to the extent alleged. ( Id. at 16-19.) Third, and lastly, Defendant argues the ALJ properly found that Plaintiff was able to perform work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy. ( Id. at 19-20.)
III. RELEVANT LEGAL STANDARD
A. Standard of Review
A court reviewing a denial of disability benefits may not determine de novo whether an individual is disabled. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3); Wagner v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 906 F.2d 856, 860 (2d Cir. 1990). Rather, the Commissioner's determination will only be reversed if the correct legal standards were not applied, or it was not supported by substantial evidence. See Johnson v. Bowen, 817 F.2d 983, 986 (2d Cir. 1987) ("Where there is a reasonable basis for doubt whether the ALJ applied correct legal principles, application of the substantial evidence standard to uphold a finding of no disability creates an unacceptable risk that a claimant will be deprived of the right to have her ...