United States District Court, W.D. New York
DECISION AND ORDER
MICHAEL A. TELESCA United States District Judge.
by counsel, Terrilee Oney (“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 her 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 case is remanded to
the Commissioner for further administrative proceedings
consistent with this Decision and Order.
record reveals that in March 2011, plaintiff (d/o/b February
7, 1961) applied for DIB and SSI, alleging disability as of
January 20, 2011. After her applications were denied,
plaintiff requested a hearing, which was held before
administrative law judge David S. Lewandowski (“the
ALJ”) on November 7, 2012. The ALJ issued an
unfavorable decision on January 22, 2013. The Appeals Council
denied review of that decision and this timely action
The ALJ's Decision
the ALJ found that plaintiff met the insured status
requirements of the Social Security Act through March 31,
2013. At step one of the five-step sequential evaluation, see
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920, the ALJ determined
that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since January 20, 2011, the alleged onset date. At
step two, the ALJ found that plaintiff suffered from the
severe impairments of degenerative disc disease of the lumbar
and cervical spines, degenerative changes of the hip, and
chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (“COPD”).
At step three, the ALJ found that plaintiff did not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled the severity of any listed impairment.
proceeding to step four, the ALJ determined that, considering
all of plaintiff's impairments, plaintiff retained the
RFC to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1567(b), 416.967(b), “except she
[could] perform occasional postural activities but should not
climb ropes, ladders or scaffolds”; she “should
not work with hazards, including dangerous machinery and
unprotected heights”; she could “perform
occasional flexion, extension and rotation of the
neck”; and she “should avoid exposure to
pulmonary irritants.” T. 17-18.
four, the ALJ found that plaintiff could perform past
relevant work as a cafeteria aide and a teacher's aide.
Accordingly, the ALJ found plaintiff not disabled and did not
proceed to step five.
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).
contends that the ALJ's RFC determination was unsupported
by any medical opinion in the record, and therefore was a
result of the ALJ's own lay interpretation of the medical
evidence. Although the ALJ gave “significant
weight” to the consulting examining opinion of state
agency internal medicine consultant Dr. John Shwab, plaintiff
argues that his findings were not accounted for in the
ALJ's RFC finding. Dr. Schwab's consulting
examination, performed on June 17, 2011, found that plaintiff
had significantly restricted range of motion
(“ROM”) of the cervical spine. Specifically,
plaintiff demonstrated cervical spine ROM of 10 degrees
extension, 10 degrees flexion, and lateral flexion and
rotation of zero degrees. Plaintiff also demonstrated
decreased ROM of the lumbar spine, positive straight leg
raise (“SLR”) test bilaterally, and limitation in
ROM of the shoulders. Dr. Schwab opined that plaintiff had
“marked restriction to moving her head in any direction
and a marked restriction to bending, lifting, and
carrying.” T. 326.
stated that he gave Dr. Schwab's opinion
“[s]ignificant weight . . . as it [was] consistent with
the residual functional capacity noted [in the ALJ's
decision] with included light work with occasional flexion,
extension and rotation of the neck and occasional postural
activities.” T. 20. Apparently, therefore, the ALJ
interpreted Dr. Schwab's “marked”
restrictions in rotation of the head, bending, lifting, and
carrying as consistent with the ALJ's RFC limiting
plaintiff to “occasional” performance of postural
activities and flexion, extension, and rotation of the neck.
argues that Dr. Schwab's opinion was “too vague to
be reasonably interpreted as being consistent with light
work, ” even with the additional
“occasional” limitations assigned by the ALJ.
Doc. 9-1 at 16. The Court agrees. Dr. Schwab's use of the
term “marked” to describe plaintiff's
limitations indicates that he found those limitations to be
quite restrictive; however, he did not define his meaning in
using the term. The ALJ failed to explain how he arrived at
the conclusion that the “marked” limitations
found by Dr. Schwab ...