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Buissereth v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, N.D. New York

March 6, 2017

JOEL R. BUISSERETH, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          STANLEY LAW OFFICES Counsel for Plaintiff U.S. SOCIAL SECURITY ADMIN. OFFICE OF REG'L GEN. COUNSEL - REGION II Counsel for Defendant

          OF COUNSEL: STEPHANIE VISCELLI, ESQ., VERNON NORWOOD, ESQ.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          William B. Mitchell Carter, U.S. Magistrate Judge

         This matter was referred for report and recommendation by the Honorable Judge Suddaby, Chief United States District Judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Rule 72.3(d). (Dkt. No. 16.) This case has proceeded in accordance with General Order 18.

         Currently before the Court, in this Social Security action filed by Joel R. Buissereth (“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, 15.) For the reasons set forth below, it is recommended that Plaintiff's motion be denied and Defendant's motion be granted.

         I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         Plaintiff was 42 at the time of the hearing. (T. 804.) He completed the seventh grade. (T. 805.)[1] Generally, Plaintiff's alleged disability consists of sleep apnea, breathing disorder, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, right shoulder injury, chest pain, and dizziness. (T. 112.) His alleged disability onset date is December 10, 2009. (T. 110.) He previously worked as a forklift operator and security guard. (T. 111.)

         B. Procedural History

         On September 1, 2010, Plaintiff applied for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. (T. 66.) Plaintiff's application was initially denied, after which he timely requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“the ALJ”). On April 1, 2014, Plaintiff appeared before the ALJ, Harry E. Siegrist. (T. 795-824.) On June 23, 2014, ALJ Siegrist issued a written decision finding Plaintiff not disabled under the Social Security Act. (T. 11-24.) On October 27, 2015, the Appeals Council (“AC”) denied Plaintiff's request for review, rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (T. 1-6.) 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. 16-24.) First, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since September 1, 2010. (T. 16.) Second, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the severe impairments of degenerative joint disease of the knees and shoulders, sleep apnea, unilateral femoral hernia, morbid obesity, history of low back pain, history of congestive heart failure, hypertension, psychotic disorder, personality disorder, and polysubstance abuse. (Id.) Third, the ALJ found that 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. 17-19.) Fourth, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work[2], except he should never climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl. (T. 19.) Further, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff should avoid all exposure to hazardous machinery and unprotected heights. (Id.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff could perform work limited to simple, routine, and repetitive tasks, and required a low stress job defined as having no fixed production quotas, involving only simple work-related decisions with few if any work place changes, and he could have only occasional interaction with the public and co-workers. (Id.) Fifth, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was incapable of performing his past relevant work; however, there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy Plaintiff could perform. (T. 23-24.)

         II. THE PARTIES' BRIEFINGS ON PLAINTIFF'S MOTION

         A. Plaintiff's Arguments

         Plaintiff makes three separate arguments in support of his motion for judgment on the pleadings. First, Plaintiff argues the ALJ's RFC determination was the product of legal error and not supported by substantial evidence. (Dkt. No. 10 at 6-9 [Pl.'s Mem. of Law].) Second, Plaintiff argues the ALJ did not evaluate Plaintiff's subjective statements in accordance with the relevant legal standards. (Id. at 9-12.) Third, and lastly, Plaintiff argues the ALJ did not meet his burden at step five because the hypothetical question posed to the vocational expert (“VE”) did not represent an accurate and complete description of Plaintiff's limitations. (Id. at 12-13.)

         B. ...


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