United States District Court, N.D. New York
AARON J. ATKINSON, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
OF PETER W. ANTONOWICZ Counsel for Plaintiff PETER W.
SOCIAL SECURITY ADMIN. OFFICE OF REG'L GEN. COUNSEL -
REGION II Counsel for Defendant SERGEI ADEN, ESQ.
DECISION AND ORDER
T. SUDDABY, Chief United States District Judge.
before the Court, in this Social Security action filed by
Aaron Atkinson (“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. 12,
13.) For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's motion
for judgment on the pleadings is denied, and Defendant's
motion for judgment on the pleadings is granted. The
Commissioner's decision denying Plaintiff's
disability benefits is affirmed, and Plaintiff's
Complaint is dismissed.
was born in 1962 and was 51 years old on the date he filed
his application. Plaintiff has at least a high school
education and past work as a truck driver, dump truck driver,
and hunting guide. Generally, Plaintiff alleged disability
consisting of herniated discs with degenerative disc disease,
emphysema, arthritis, a right rotator cuff tear, depression,
applied for Supplemental Security Income on June 12, 2013,
alleging disability beginning August 1, 2002. Plaintiff's
application was initially denied on September 16, 2013, after
which he timely requested a hearing before an Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”). On January 15, 2015, Plaintiff
appeared at a video hearing before ALJ Lisa B. Martin. (T.
11, 28-70.) On April 24, 2015, the ALJ issued a written
decision finding Plaintiff not disabled under the Social
Security Act. (T. 11-25.) On June 6, 2016, the Appeals
Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the
ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner.
The ALJ's Decision
in her decision, the ALJ made the following six findings of
fact and conclusions of law. (T. 13-21.) First, the ALJ found
that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since June 12, 2013, the application filing date.
(T. 13.) Second, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's lumbar
spine disorder with associated stage-two spondylolosthesis,
spina bifida accula at ¶ 5, chronic obstructive
pulmonary disease, depression, and anxiety are severe
impairments. (T. 13.) Third, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff's severe impairments, alone or in combination,
do not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments
in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, App. 1 (the
“Listings”). (T. 14-15.) More specifically, the
ALJ considered Listings 1.00 (musculoskeletal system
impairments), 3.00 (respiratory disorders), 12.00 (mental
disorders), 12.04 (affective disorders), and 12.06
(anxiety-related disorders). (Id.) Fourth, the ALJ
found that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform
a full range of light work as defined in 20 C.F.R.
416.967(b), except the claimant must avoid all climbing of
ladders, ropes, and scaffolding, and is limited to occasional
climbing of ramps and stairs, balancing, stooping, kneeling,
crouching, and crawling. The claimant must also avoid all
dangerous work hazards (including unprotected heights and
exposed machinery), all exposure to extreme heat, humidity,
and cold, and all exposure to concentrated pulmonary
irritants. The claimant will further need a brief (one to two
minutes) change in position opportunity as often as every 30
minutes for one to two minutes. The claimant also needs a
work setting requiring no more than occasional work
interactions with co-workers, supervisors, and the public.
(T. 15.) Fifth, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has past work as
a truck driver (medium, SVP 3), dump truck driver (medium,
SVP 2), and hunting guide (very heavy, SVP 7), though the ALJ
also found that Plaintiff is unable to perform this past work
based on the restrictions in the RFC. (T. 19-20.) Sixth, and
finally, the ALJ determined that there are jobs that exist in
significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff
can perform, including packer, cleaner, and sorter. (T.
The Parties' Briefings on Their Cross-Motions
Plaintiff asserts two arguments in support of his motion for
judgment on the pleadings. First, Plaintiff argues that the
ALJ failed to properly develop the record by failing to
retain the services of a consultative examiner or to contact
the treating sources to either provide a consultative
examination or answer questions regarding Plaintiff's
specific impairments. (Dkt. No. 12, at 7-8 [Pl.'s Mem. of
Law].) Within this argument, Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ
was required to obtain a consultative examination because the
ALJ's finding that Plaintiff had severe impairments
conflicted with the findings of the Single Decision
Maker who made the initial Agency determination
of non-disability. (Id.) Plaintiff implies that, had
the Single Decision Maker properly found a severe impairment
at that earlier stage, he would have been required to obtain
a consultative examination, and so the ALJ should have
obtained a consultative examination upon determining severe
impairments were present. (Id.)
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to give appropriate
weight to the opinions of the treating social worker and
treating nurse practitioner by failing to provide adequate
reasons for discrediting these opinions and instead
substituting her own opinion in place of the opinions present
in the record. (Id. at 8-10.) Specifically,
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ improperly rejected these
opinions because the providing nurse practitioner and social
worker were not classified as “medically acceptable
sources” under the regulations rather than affording
those opinions appropriate consideration as required by SSR
Defendant asserts two counter-arguments in support of her
motion for judgment on the pleadings. First, Defendant argues
that the ALJ was not required to seek a consultative
examination or other further evidence because there was
sufficient evidence in the record for her to render a finding
that was supported by substantial evidence ...