United States District Court, W.D. New York
DECISION AND ORDER
MICHAEL A. TELESCA, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
by counsel, Michael Smith (“plaintiff”) brings
this action pursuant to Titles II and XVI of the Social
Security Act (“the Act”), seeking review of the
final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
(“the Commissioner”) denying his applications for
disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and
supplemental security income (“SSI”). The Court
has jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). Presently before the Court are the
parties' cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings
pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure. For the reasons discussed below, plaintiff's
motion is granted to the extent that this matter is remanded
to the Commissioner for further administrative proceedings
consistent with this decision and order.
record reveals that in August 2013, plaintiff (d/o/b December
12, 1965) applied for DIB and SSI, alleging disability as of
August 10, 2012. After his application was denied, plaintiff
requested a hearing, which was held before administrative law
judge Robert T. Harvey (“the ALJ”) on August 13,
2014. The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on August 21,
2014. The Appeals Council denied review of the ALJ's
decision and this timely action followed.
The ALJ's Decision
the ALJ found that plaintiff met the insured status
requirements of the Act through March 31, 2016. At step one
of the five-step sequential evaluation process, see 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520, 416.920, the ALJ determined that
plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since August 10, 2012, the alleged onset date. At step two,
the ALJ found that plaintiff suffered from the severe
impairments of status post left shoulder reconstruction,
impulse control disorder, antisocial personality disorder,
substance disorder, and discogenic cervical spine. At step
three, the ALJ found that plaintiff did not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled a listed impairment. In considering
plaintiff's mental impairments, the ALJ found that
plaintiff had mild restrictions in activities of daily living
(“ADLs”) and maintaining concentration,
persistence, or pace, and moderate difficulties in social
placed the following pertinent nonexertional limitations on
plaintiff's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”): “occasional limitations in the
ability to understand, remember and carry out detailed
instructions; occasional limitations in the ability to
interact appropriately with the public; occasional
limitations in the ability to deal with stress; and
occasional limitations in the ability to make
decisions.” T. 22. At step four, the ALJ found that
plaintiff was unable to perform past relevant work. At step
five, the ALJ determined that considering plaintiff's
age, education, work experience, and RFC, jobs existed in
significant numbers in the national economy which plaintiff
district court may set aside the Commissioner's
determination that a claimant is not disabled only if the
factual findings are not supported by “substantial
evidence” or if the decision is based on legal error.
42 U.S.C. § 405(g); see also Green-Younger v.
Barnhart, 335 F.3d 99, 105-06 (2d Cir. 2003).
“Substantial evidence means ‘such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.'” Shaw v. Chater,
221 F.3d 126, 131 (2d Cir. 2000).
sole contention is that the ALJ's RFC assessment
conflicts with the relevant medical opinions regarding
plaintiff's mental limitations. The record reveals that
plaintiff was treated at Lakeshore Behavioral Health from
approximately July 2013 through August 2014. His treating
mental health counselor, Earnest Donaldson, LMHC, submitted a
mental RFC questionnaire in September 2013, reporting that
plaintiff suffered from bipolar disorder and antisocial
personality disorder. However, LMHC Donaldson declined to
fill out any of the functional areas of the form. On August
1, 2014, LMHC Donaldson submitted a letter, stating that he
declined to give a functional assessment because he did
“not not observe or have any opportunity to determine
how [plaintiff] responds in a work environment.” T.
October 16, 2013, state agency psychologist Dr. Susan
Santarpia completed a consulting psychiatric evaluation. Dr.
Santarpia opined that plaintiff “present[ed] as able to
follow and understand simple directions and instructions,
perform simple tasks independently, maintain attention and
concentration, maintain a regular schedule, and learn new
tasks within normal limits.” T. 354. According to Dr.
Santarpia, plaintiff demonstrated mild impairment
“performing complex tasks independently and
appropriately dealing with stress, ” and moderate
impairment “in making appropriate decisions and
relating adequately with others.” T. 354-55. She opined
that plaintiff's “[d]ifficulties [were] caused by
mental RFC assessment performed by reviewing psychologist Dr.
Joel Straussner, Dr. Straussner opined that plaintiff was
moderately limited in interacting with coworkers and the
general public. Dr. Straussner additionally opined, as
relevant here, that plaintiff was moderately limited in
accepting instructions and responding appropriately to
criticism from supervisors, as well as getting along with
coworkers or peers without distracting them or causing
gave some weight to Dr. Santarpia's consulting opinion,
stating specifically that he gave little weight to her
opinion that plaintiff's prognosis was “guarded, as
the record reflect[ed] that the claimant's condition
could improve when he [was] compliant with treatment and
refrain[ed] from abusing substances.” T. 25-26. The ALJ
explained that he considered plaintiff less than fully
credible as to his allegations of mental health limitations,
citing Dr. Santarpia's unremarkable findings on
consulting examination and the overall consistency of Dr.
Santarpia's findings with plaintiff's mental health
treatment record, during which plaintiff was assessed with,
at most, moderate symptoms as indicated by GAF
scores. The ALJ did not explicitly weigh ...