United States District Court, W.D. New York
DECISION AND ORDER
WILLIAM M. SKRETNY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Plaintiff Brian Edward Hughes challenges an Administrative
Law Judge's (“ALJ”) determination that he was
not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act
(“the Act”) for a period from October 12, 2012,
through June 20, 2013. Plaintiff alleges that he has been
disabled since October 12, 2012, due to depression, anxiety,
migraines, and bipolar disorder. He therefore asserts that he
is entitled to payment of disability benefits under the Act.
Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance
benefits on March 4, 2014, which the Commissioner denied on
April 25, 2014. On April 30, 2014, Plaintiff requested a
hearing before an ALJ. On June 6, 2014, ALJ William M. Weir
conducted a hearing at which Plaintiff, a vocational expert,
and Plaintiff's mother appeared and testified. Plaintiff
was represented by counsel. At the time of the hearing,
Plaintiff was 48 years old, with a college education, and
previous work experience at a bank and financial firm. The
ALJ considered the case de novo, and on September 18, 2014,
issued a written decision granting Plaintiff's
application for benefits as of July 1, 2013, but denying
Plaintiff's application for benefits for the period from
October 12, 2012, to June 30, 2013. The Appeals Council
denied Plaintiff's request for review on February 4,
2015. Plaintiff filed the current action on March 2, 2015,
challenging the Commissioner's final
October 27, 2015, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Judgment on
the Pleadings pursuant to Rule 12 (c) of the Federal Rules of
Civil Procedure. (Docket No. 8.) On February 26, 2016, the
Commissioner filed a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings.
(Docket No. 14.) For the following reasons, Plaintiff's
motion is granted, Defendant's motion is denied, and this
case is remanded for further proceedings.
court reviewing a denial of disability benefits may not
determine de novo whether an individual is disabled.
See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3);
Wagner v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs.,
906 F.2d 856, 860 (2d Cir. 1990). Rather, the
Commissioner's determination will be reversed only if it
is not supported by substantial evidence or there has been a
legal error. See Grey v. Heckler, 721 F.2d 41, 46
(2d Cir. 1983); Marcus v. Califano, 615 F.2d 23, 27
(2d Cir. 1979). Substantial evidence is that which amounts to
“more than a mere scintilla, ” and it has been
defined as “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind
might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct.
1420, 1427, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971). Where evidence is deemed
susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the
Commissioner's conclusion must be upheld. See
Rutherford v. Schweiker, 685 F.2d 60, 62 (2d Cir. 1982).
“To determine on appeal whether an ALJ's findings
are supported by substantial evidence, a reviewing court
considers the whole record, examining the evidence from both
sides, because an analysis of the substantiality of the
evidence must also include that which detracts from its
weight.” Williams on Behalf of Williams v.
Bowen, 859 F.2d 255, 258 (2d Cir. 1988). If supported by
substantial evidence, the Commissioner's finding must be
sustained “even where substantial evidence may support
the plaintiff's position and despite that the court's
independent analysis of the evidence may differ from the
[Commissioner's].” Rosado v. Sullivan, 805
F.Supp. 147, 153 (S.D.N.Y. 1992). In other words, this Court
must afford the Commissioner's determination considerable
deference, and will not substitute “its own judgment
for that of the [Commissioner], even if it might justifiably
have reached a different result upon a de novo
review.” Valente v. Sec'y of Health & Human
Servs., 733 F.2d 1037, 1041 (2d Cir. 1984).
Commissioner has established a five-step sequential
evaluation process to determine whether an individual is
disabled under the Act. See 20 C.F.R. § §
404.1520, 416.920. The United States Supreme Court recognized
the validity of this analysis in Bowen v. Yuckert,
and it remains the proper approach for analyzing whether a
claimant is disabled. 482 U.S. 137, 140-42, 107 S.Ct. 2287,
2291, 96 L.Ed.2d 119 (1987).
five-step process is detailed below:
First, the [Commissioner] considers whether the claimant is
currently engaged in substantial gainful activity. If he is
not, the [Commissioner] next considers whether the claimant
has a “severe impairment” which significantly
limits his physical or mental ability to do basic work
activities. If the claimant suffers such an impairment, the
third inquiry is whether, based solely on medical evidence,
the claimant has an impairment which is listed in Appendix 1
of the regulations. If the claimant has such an impairment,
the [Commissioner] will consider him disabled without
considering vocational factors such as age, education, and
work experience; the [Commissioner] presumes that a claimant
who is afflicted with a “listed” impairment is
unable to perform substantial gainful activity. Assuming the
claimant does not have a listed impairment, the fourth
inquiry is whether, despite the claimant's severe
impairment, he has the residual functional capacity to
perform his past work. Finally, if the claimant is unable to
perform his past work, the [Commissioner] then determines
whether there is other work which the claimant could perform.
Berry v. Schweiker, 675 F.2d 464, 467 (2d Cir. 1982)
(per curiam) (quotations in original); see also Rosa v.
Callahan, 168 F.3d 72, 77 (2d Cir. 1999); 20 C.F.R.
Although the claimant has the burden of proof on the first
four steps, the Commissioner has the burden of proof on the
fifth and final step. See Bowen, 482 U.S. at 146
n.5; Ferraris v. Heckler, 728 F.2d 582, 584 (2d Cir.
1984). The final step is divided into two parts. First, the
Commissioner must assess the claimant's job
qualifications by considering his physical ability, age,
education, and work experience. Second, the Commissioner must
determine whether jobs exist in the national economy that a
person having the claimant's qualifications could
perform. See 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A); 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(f); Heckler v. Campbell, 461
U.S. 458, 460, 103 S.Ct. 1952, 1954, 76 L.Ed.2d 66 (1983).
this case, the ALJ made the following findings with regard to
the five-step process set forth above: (1) Plaintiff has not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since October 12,
2012, the alleged onset date (R. at 19); (2)
Plaintiff's major depressive disorder was a
“severe” impairment within the meaning of the Act
(R. at 19); (3) before July 1, 2013 (the date Plaintiff
became disabled), Plaintiff did not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the
severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part
404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (R. at 20); (4) before July 1,
2013, Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform a full range of work at all
exertional levels, except no more than occasional interaction
with co-workers, supervisors, and the general public (R. at
21); (5) before July 1, 2013, Plaintiff could perform jobs
that exist in significant numbers in the national economy (R.
at 23); (6) as of July 1, 2013, Plaintiff's impairments
have met or medically equaled the severity of one listed in
C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (R. at 24). Thus,
Plaintiff was not under a disability, as defined by the Act,
at any time before July 1, 2013. (R. at 25).
Plaintiff first contends that the ALJ erred by failing to
properly evaluate his credibility, because he (1) failed to
consider the reasons for Plaintiff's lack of medical
treatment, and (2) failed to consider factors that enhance
Plaintiff's credibility, such as his work history. Upon
review of the ALJ's credibility determination, this Court
concludes that it is insufficiently supported and legally
deficient. Remand is therefore required.
Credibility determinations are generally reserved to the
Commissioner, not the reviewing court. Aponte v.
Sec'y of Health and Human Svcs., 728 F.2d 588, 591
(2d Cir. 1984) (holding that it is the job of the
Commissioner and not the reviewing court to make
determinations on the credibility of witnesses); Carrol
v. Sec'y of Health and Human Svcs., 705 F.2d 638,
642 (2d Cir. 1982) (similar). The ALJ is required to evaluate
the credibility of testimony or statements about the
claimant's impairments when there is conflicting evidence
about the extent of pain, limitations of ...