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Young v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. New York

March 31, 2017

DOUGLAS ROBERT YOUNG, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1]ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          DECISION AND ORDER

          HON. FRANK P. GERACI, JR. Chief Judge.

         INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Douglas Young (“Plaintiff”) brings this action to challenge the final decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security (“the Commissioner”) denying his application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security Act (“the Act”). ECF No. 1. The Court has jurisdiction over this matter under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         Both parties have moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. ECF Nos. 9, 11. For the reasons stated below, Plaintiff's motion (ECF No. 9) is DENIED and the Commissioner's motion (ECF No. 11) is GRANTED.

         BACKGROUND

         On September 19, 2011, Plaintiff protectively filed an application for DIB under the Act. Tr. 15.[2] Plaintiff alleges disability since May 6, 2011 due to a back injury. Tr. 156. On March 6, 2014, Administrative Law Judge Michael W. Delvin (“the ALJ”) issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled under the Act. Tr. 15-26. That decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on July 14, 2015. Tr. 1-5. Plaintiff then filed this civil action. ECF No. 1.

         LEGAL STANDARDS

         I. Disability Determination

         The Act defines “disability” as “the inability to do any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d). Social Security Administration (“SSA”) regulations outline the five-step process used to determine whether a claimant is “disabled” under the Act. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520.

         First, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant is engaged in any substantial gainful work activity. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b). If so, the claimant is not disabled. Id. If not, the ALJ proceeds to step two and determines whether the claimant has a “severe” impairment or combination of impairments. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). If the claimant does not have a severe impairment or combination of impairments, the claimant is not disabled. Id. If the claimant does have a severe impairment, the analysis proceeds to step three.

         At step three, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant has an impairment (or combination of impairments) that meets or medically equals one of the conditions listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 of the regulations (“the Listings”). If the impairment does meet or equal a condition in the Listings and the durational requirement (20 C.F.R. § 404.1509) is satisfied, then the claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d). If it does not, the ALJ will make a finding regarding the claimant's residual functional capacity (“RFC”), which is an assessment of what the claimant can still do despite his or her limitations. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1). The RFC is then used at steps four and five. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e).

         The fourth inquiry is whether, given the claimant's RFC, the claimant can still perform his or her past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f). If the claimant can perform his or her past relevant work, the claimant is not disabled. Id. If he or she cannot, the ALJ proceeds to step five.

         At the fifth and final step, the ALJ must consider the claimant's RFC as well as his or her age, education, and work experience to determine whether the claimant can make an adjustment to other work for which there are a significant number of jobs in the national economy. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g). If the claimant can make an adjustment to other work, then the claimant is not disabled. Id. If the claimant cannot make that adjustment, then the claimant is disabled. Id.

         The burden of proving the first four elements is on the claimant, and the burden of proving the fifth element is on the Commissioner. Bush v. Shalala, 94 F.3d 40, 44-45 (2d Cir. 1996); Berry v. Schweiker, 675 F.2d 464, 467 (2d Cir. 1982).

         II. District Court Review

         District Court review of the Commissioner's decision is not de novo. See, e.g., Richardson v. Barnhart, 443 F.Supp.2d 411, 416 (W.D.N.Y. 2006) (quoting Melville v. Apfel, 198 F.3d 45, 52 (2d Cir. 1999)). The Commissioner's decision may only be set aside if it is not supported by “substantial evidence” or is the product of legal error. See, e.g., Burgess v. Astrue, 537 F.3d 117, 127 (2d Cir. 2008) (quoting Shaw v. Chater, 221 F.3d 126, 131 (2d Cir. 2000)). Substantial evidence means “more than a mere scintilla” and is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept ...


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