United States District Court, N.D. New York
JUSTIN M. GOLDSTEIN, ESQ., OLINSKY LAW GROUP, Syracuse, NY, Counsel for Plaintiff.
PETER W. JEWETT, ESQ., U.S. SOCIAL SECURITY ADMIN., OFFICE OF REG'L GEN. COUNSEL-REGION II, 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 Jeffery Scott Bush ("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. 10, 13.) 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 January 31, 1965. (T. 231.) He completed high school. (T. 253.) He worked full time as a radiology assistant, landscaper, and dishwasher. (T. 254.) Generally, Plaintiff's alleged disability consisted of a back impairment. (T. 253.) His alleged disability onset date is July 6, 2009. (T. 248.) His date last insured is March 31, 2012. (T. 249.)
B. Procedural History
On February 9, 2011, Plaintiff protectively filed a Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits ("SSD"); he also filed a Title XVI application for supplemental security income ("SSI"). His application was initially denied, after which he timely requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("the ALJ"). On August 7, 2012, he appeared before ALJ Scott M. Staller. (T. 84-106.) On August 30, 2012 ALJ Staller issued a written decision finding Plaintiff not disabled under the Social Security Act. (T. 12-27.) On March 27, 2014, the Appeals Council ("AC") denied Plaintiff's request for review, thus rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (T. 1-5.) 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. 17-24.) First, the ALJ found Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset date. (T. 17.) Second, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the severe impairments of degenerative disc disease ("DDD") of the lumbar spine with radiculopathy, a history of neck pain with right cervical radiculopathy, alcohol abuse in early remission, cannabis abuse in early remission, cocaine abuse in early remission, and methamphetamine abuse in remission. ( Id. ) The ALJ determined Plaintiff's medically determinable impairments of depression and anxiety were nonsevere. ( Id. ) Third, the ALJ found Plaintiff did not have an impairment that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments located in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix. 1. (T. 18.) Fourth, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform less than a full range of sedentary work. (T. 19) Specifically, Plaintiff was limited to a job where he could sit or stand alternatively every 30 minutes so long as he did not have to leave his work station; he could never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; he could occasionally climb ramps or stairs, stoop, kneel, crouch or crawl; he could frequently balance; he must avoid concentrated exposure to dangerous moving machinery and unprotected heights; he was limited to frequent reaching, handling, and fingering with his right, non-dominant extremity. ( Id. ) Fifth, the ALJ found Plaintiff had past relevant work as a patient transporter and was unable to perform his past relevant work. (T. 22.) However, the ALJ determined considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience and RFC, there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy Plaintiff could perform. (T. 23.)
II. THE PARTIES' BRIEFINGS ON PLAINTIFF'S MOTION
A. Plaintiff's Arguments
Plaintiff makes two separate arguments in support of his motion for judgment on the pleadings. First, Plaintiff argues the ALJ's RFC determination is unsupported by substantial evidence and is legally deficient; specifically, (1) the ALJ failed to properly evaluate the opinion evidence of Rinoo Shah, M.D. and Look Persaud, M.D. and (2) the RFC is unsupported by substantial evidence. (Dkt. No. 10 at 11-21 [Pl.'s Mem. of Law].) Second, and lastly, Plaintiff argues the ALJ failed to apply the appropriate legal standards when finding Plaintiff not fully credible. ( Id. at 21-25.)
B. Defendant's Arguments
In response, Defendant makes essentially three arguments. First, Defendant argues the ALJ properly discounted Dr. Shah's opinion. (Dkt. No. 13 at 4-7 [Def.'s Mem. of Law].) Second, Defendant argues the ALJ properly assessed Plaintiff's credibility. ( Id. at 7-9.) Third, and lastly, Defendant argues the ALJ properly developed the record. ( Id. at 9-10.)
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 be reversed only if the correct legal standards were not applied, or the decision 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 disability determination made according to the correct legal principles."); Grey v. Heckler, 721 F.2d 41, 46 (2d Cir. 1983); Marcus v. Califano, 615 F.2d 23, 27 (2d Cir. 1979).
"Substantial evidence" is evidence that amounts to "more than a mere scintilla, " and has been defined as "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 1427 (1971). Where evidence is deemed susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the Commissioner's conclusion must be upheld. See Rutherford v. Schweiker, 685 F.2d 60, 62 (2d Cir. 1982).
"To determine on appeal whether the ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence, a reviewing court considers the whole record, examining evidence from both sides, because an analysis of the substantiality of the evidence must also include that which detracts ...