United States District Court, W.D. New York
RICHARD M. KAIN, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
DECISION AND ORDER
P. GERACI, JR. Chief Judge United States District Court
M. Kain (“Kain” or “Plaintiff”)
brings this action pursuant to the Social Security Act
(“the Act”) seeking review of the final decision
of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security (“the
Commissioner”) that denied his applications for
disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Titles
II and XVI of the Act. ECF No. 1. This Court has jurisdiction
over this action under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g),
parties have moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to
Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. ECF Nos.
11, 12. For the reasons that follow, this Court finds that
the Commissioner's decision is not in accordance with the
applicable legal standards. Accordingly, Plaintiff's
motion is GRANTED, the Commissioner's motion is DENIED,
and this matter is REMANDED to the Commissioner for further
April 1, 2010, Kain applied for DIB and SSI with the Social
Security Administration (“the SSA”).
204-07. He alleged that he had been disabled since August 26,
2007, due to right hand numbness, right knee pain, chronic
obstructive pulmonary disease (“COPD”), asthma,
and heart and back conditions. Tr. 222. He later amended his
alleged onset date to November 24, 2009. Tr. 783. After his
applications were denied at the initial administrative level,
a hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge John P.
Costello (“the ALJ”) on March 13, 2012, in which
the ALJ considered Kain's applications de novo.
Tr. 58-104. Kain appeared at the hearing with his attorney
and testified. Id. Peter A. Manzi, a vocational
expert (“VE”), also appeared at the hearing and
testified. Tr. 96-103. On April 5, 2012, the ALJ issued a
decision finding that Kain was not disabled within the
meaning of the Act. Tr. 23-34. On June 7, 2013, that decision
became the Commissioner's final decision when the Appeals
Council denied Kain's request for review. Tr. 1-7. On
August 1, 2013, Kain filed a federal action seeking review of
the Commissioner's final decision. See Docket
No. 13-CV-6395-FPG, ECF No. 1.
January 30, 2014, this Court reversed the Commissioner's
final decision and remanded the case pursuant to sentence
four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), in accordance with a
Stipulation and Order. Tr. 860-62. On April 15, 2014, the
Appeals Council vacated the Commissioner's final decision
and provided specific instructions for the ALJ to follow on
remand. Tr. 863-67.
February 18, 2015, Kain appeared with his attorney and
testified at a second hearing before the ALJ. Tr. 772-833.
Julie A. Andrews, a VE, also appeared and testified. Tr.
795-99. On June 26, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding
that Kain was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. Tr.
698-714. Kain then filed this action seeking review of the
Commissioner's final decision. ECF No. 1.
I. District Court Review
reviewing a final decision of the SSA, this Court is limited
to determining whether the SSA's conclusions were
supported by substantial evidence in the record and were
based on a correct legal standard.” Talavera v.
Astrue, 697 F.3d 145, 151 (2d Cir. 2012) (internal
quotation marks omitted); see also 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). The Act holds that a decision by the Commissioner is
“conclusive” if it is supported by substantial
evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). “Substantial
evidence means more than a mere scintilla. It means such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.” Moran v.
Astrue, 569 F.3d 108, 112 (2d Cir. 2009) (internal
quotation marks omitted). It is not this Court's function
to “determine de novo whether [the claimant]
is disabled.” Schaal v. Apfel, 134 F.3d 496,
501 (2d Cir. 1998) (internal quotation marks omitted);
see also Wagner v. Sec'y of Health & Human
Servs., 906 F.2d 856, 860 (2d Cir. 1990) (holding that
review of the Secretary's decision is not de
novo and that the Secretary's findings are
conclusive if supported by substantial evidence).
must follow a five-step sequential evaluation to determine
whether a claimant is disabled within the meaning of the Act.
See Bowen v. City of New York, 476 U.S. 467, 470-71
(1986). At step one, the ALJ must determine whether the
claimant is engaged in substantial gainful work activity.
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b). If so, the
claimant is not disabled. If not, the ALJ proceeds to step
two and determines whether the claimant has an impairment, or
combination of impairments, that is “severe”
within the meaning of the Act, meaning that it imposes
significant restrictions on the claimant's ability to
perform basic work activities. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c).
If the claimant does not have a severe impairment or
combination of impairments, the analysis concludes with a
finding of “not disabled.” If the claimant does,
the ALJ continues to step three.
three, the ALJ examines whether a claimant's impairment
meets or medically equals the criteria of a listed impairment
in Appendix 1 of Subpart P of Regulation No. 4 (the
“Listings”). 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d). If the
impairment meets or medically equals the criteria of a
Listing and meets the durational requirement (20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1509), the claimant is disabled. If not, the ALJ
determines the claimant's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”), which is the ability to perform physical
or mental work activities on a sustained basis,
notwithstanding limitations for the collective impairments.
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e)-(f).
then proceeds to step four and determines whether the
claimant's RFC permits him or her to perform the
requirements of his or her past relevant work. 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(f). If the claimant can perform such
requirements, then he or she is not disabled. If he or she
cannot, the analysis proceeds to the fifth and final step,
wherein the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that
the claimant is not disabled. To do so, the Commissioner must
present evidence to demonstrate that the claimant
“retains a residual functional capacity to perform
alternative substantial gainful work which exists in the
national economy” in light ...