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Romak v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. New York

March 7, 2017

JEFFREY PETER ROMAK, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          DECISION & ORDER

          THOMAS J. McAVOY, SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Jeffrey Peter Romak (“Plaintiff”) brings this action pursuant to § 205(g) of the Social Security Act (“SSA”), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to review a final determination by the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying his application for benefits. Plaintiff argues that the Commissioner's decision must be reversed and the matter remanded on two grounds: (1) The Appeals Council should have reversed the decision of the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) based upon new and material evidence provided to it after the ALJ rendered her decision; and (2) Plaintiff's residual functional capacity as determined by the ALJ is not supported by substantial evidence in the record. The Commissioner argues that (1) the Appeals Council properly determined not to reverse the ALJ because the newly-presented evidence was not material to the ALJ's decision; and (2) the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence and made in accordance with the correct legal standards.

         Pursuant to Northern District of New York General Order No. 8, the Court proceeds as if both parties had accompanied their briefs with a motion for judgment on the pleadings. For the reasons that follow, Plaintiff's motion is is denied, Defendant's motion is granted, and the decision of the Commissioner is affirmed.

         II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On December 16, 2012, Plaintiff filed a Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits, and a Title XVI application for supplemental security income. In both applications, Plaintiff alleged disability beginning April 20, 2011. These claims were initially denied on April 17, 2013. Thereafter, Plaintiff filed a written request for a hearing.

         ALJ Dale Black-Pennington presided over the hearing held on April 30, 2014, in Albany, N.Y. Plaintiff appeared and testified at the hearing. Plaintiff was represented by Janice Cammarato, a non-attorney representative. Connie Louise Standhart, an impartial vocational expert, also appeared and testified at the hearing.

         On May 20, 2014, ALJ Black-Pennington issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled. Tr. 15-25. This decision became the final decision of the Commissioner on September 18, 2015, when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. Tr. 3-6. This action followed.

         III. FACTS

         The parties do not dispute the underlying facts of this case as set forth by ALJ Black-Pennington in her May 20, 2014 Decision. Tr. 15-25. Accordingly, the Court assumes familiarity with these facts and will set forth only those facts material to the parties' arguments.

         IV. THE ADMINISTRATIVE LAW JUDGE'S DECISION

         In adjudicating Plaintiff's claim, the ALJ applied the five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether a claimant is disabled. Tr. 15-16. The ALJ found at step one that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his April 20, 2011, alleged onset date. Tr. 17. At the second step, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: cervical and lumbar degenerative disc disease; myotonic dystrophy; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD); anxiety; depression; and impulse control disorder. Tr. 17. At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's impairments neither met nor equaled one of the impairments listed in Appendix 1, 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P. Tr. 18. After considering the evidence in the record, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff retained the RFC to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b), except:

• He could only perform frequent, as opposed to repetitive, bending and stopping and could only perform ...

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