United States District Court, W.D. New York
DECISION AND ORDER
MICHAEL A. TELESCA United States District Judge.
Ray Allen (“Plaintiff”), represented by counsel,
brings this action pursuant to Titles II and XVI of the
Social Security Act (“the Act”), seeking review
of the final decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social
Security (“Defendant” or “the
Commissioner”), denying his applications for Disability
Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental
Security Income (“SSI”).
filed applications for DIB and SSI on September 11, 2012
(T.154-166),  alleging disability beginning on his date
of birth in 1973. (T.154, 161). After Plaintiff's claims
were initially denied on January 11, 2013 (T.89-96), he
timely filed a written request for hearing on February 24,
2013. (Tr.97-98). On July 10, 2014, a hearing was held via
videoconference before administrative law judge David J.
Begley (“the ALJ”). (T.35-63). Plaintiff appeared
with his attorney and testified, as did an impartial
vocational expert, Stephanie Archer (“the VE”).
On November 7, 2014, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision.
(T.10-29). Plaintiff requested review by the Appeals Council
on January 24, 2014. (T.7-9). The Appeals Council denied the
request on February 5, 2016, making the ALJ's decision
the final decision of the Commissioner. (T.1-6). Plaintiff
timely filed this action.
parties have cross-moved for judgment on the pleadings
pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure. The Court adopts and incorporates by reference
herein the undisputed and comprehensive factual summaries
contained in the parties' briefs. The record will be
discussed in more detail below as necessary to the resolution
of this appeal.
reasons that follow, the Commissioner's decision is
one of the sequential evaluation, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
during the period at issue. At step two, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff had the following “severe impairments”:
lumbar degenerative disc disease, degenerative joint disease
of the left shoulder, obstructive sleep apnea, asthma,
obesity, borderline intellectual functioning, attention
deficit hyperactivity disorder, and rule-out anxiety disorder
and cannabis abuse. At step three, the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff did not meet or equal any listed impairment. Before
proceeding to step four, the ALJ assessed Plaintiff as having
the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to
a range of light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except he can occasionally climb,
balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. He should not reach
overhead with the left upper extremity. He should avoid
concentrated exposure to humidity, extreme heat and cold, and
pulmonary irritants . . . . He should avoid slippery and
uneven surfaces, hazardous machinery, unprotected heights,
and open flames. Secondary to mental impairments, the
claimant can perform simple, routine, repetitive tasks. He
can work in a low stress job, defined as having no fixed
production quotas, no hazardous conditions, only occasional
decision making required, and only occasional changes in the
four, the ALJ considered the VE's testimony from the
hearing classifying Plaintiff's past relevant work:
cashier (Dictionary of Occupational Titles
(“DOT”) 211.462-101, light exertion, SVP of 2);
and sander (DOT 761.687-010, light exertion, SVP of 2).
(T.60-61). Currently, Plaintiff was working as a salvage
laborer (DOT 929.687-022, medium exertion, SVP of 2). (T.61).
However, the VE testified, Plaintiff was actually performing
this work at the light, not medium, exertional level.
Furthermore, the VE was uncertain whether it could be
considered competitive employment, because Plaintiff had a
job coach present with him. The ALJ then had questioned the
VE regarding a hypothetical individual with the above-quoted
RFC. The VE testified that such an individual could perform
Plaintiff's past work as a cashier, but could not perform
his past work as a sander. (T.62). The VE also had testified
that even assuming the laborer job was competitive, the
hypothetical individual could do the work as Plaintiff is
performing it, but not as it is generally performed in the
national economy. The ALJ relied on the VE's testimony to
find that Plaintiff could perform his past work as cashier.
Therefore, the ALJ did not proceed to the fifth step, and
entered a finding of not disabled.
decision that a claimant is not disabled must be affirmed if
it is supported by substantial evidence, and if the ALJ
applied the correct legal standards. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
“Where the Commissioner's decision rests on
adequate findings supported by evidence having rational
probative force, [the district court] will not substitute
[its] judgment for that of the Commissioner.” Veino
v. Barnhart, 312 F.3d 578, 586 (2d Cir. 2002). This
deferential standard is not applied to the Commissioner's
application of the law, and the district court must
independently determine whether the Commissioner's
decision applied the correct legal standards in determining
that the claimant was not disabled. Townley v.
Heckler, 748 F.2d 109, 112 (2d Cir. 1984). Failure to
apply the correct legal standards is grounds for reversal.
Id. Therefore, this Court first reviews whether the
applicable legal standards were correctly applied, and, if
so, then considers the substantiality of the ...