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Wat v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. New York

April 15, 2017

KENNY WAT, Plaintiff,

          Fusco, Brandenstein & Rada, P.C. Attorneys for the Plaintiff By: Erin K. McCabe, Esq., Of Counsel.

          U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of New York Attorneys for the Commissioner By: Matthew Mallioux, Assistant U.S. Attorney.

          DECISION & ORDER


         On September 14, 2015, the Plaintiff Kenny Wat commenced this civil appeal pursuant to the Social Security Act (the “Act”), 42 U.S.C. § 405 et seq., challenging a final determination by the Acting Commissioner of Social Security Carolyn W. Colvin, that he is ineligible to receive Social Security disability insurance benefits.

         Presently before the Court are the parties' cross-motions, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (“Fed. R. Civ. P.”) 12(c), for judgment on the pleadings. For the reasons that follow, the Commissioner's motion is granted; the Plaintiff's cross-motion is denied; and the Commissioner's denial of benefits is affirmed in its entirety.

         I. Background

         On May 8, 2013, the Plaintiff, then 54 years old, applied for disability insurance benefits, alleging that a combination of physical and mental impairments, including carpal tunnel syndrome, bipolar disorder, sleep apnea, and obesity, preclude him from engaging in substantial gainful activity.

         On August 28, 2013, the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denied his application.

         On reconsideration, including a hearing held on January 8, 2015, Administrative Law Judge Alan B. Berkowitz (the “ALJ”) upheld the SSA's initial determination. In particular, the ALJ issued a written decision concluding that, during the period of time from December 31, 2011 through April 3, 2015 (the “Relevant Time Period”), the Plaintiff retained the functional capacity to perform a modified range of “medium work” jobs, which existed in significant numbers in the national economy.

         After the Appeals Council denied the Plaintiff's request for an additional administrative review, on July 28, 2015, the ALJ's written decision became the final decision of the Commissioner.

         On September 14, 2015, the Plaintiff commenced this civil appeal.

         On February 19, 2016, the Plaintiff moved under the provisions of Rule 12(c) for judgment on the pleadings, and on May 6, 2016, the Commissioner cross-moved for similar relief.

         For purposes of these motions, familiarity with the underlying administrative record is presumed. The Court's discussion of the evidence will be limited to the specific challenges presently raised by the Plaintiff. In this regard, references to the record are denoted as “R.”

         II. Discussion

         A. The Standard of Review

         “Judicial review of the denial of disability benefits is narrow” and “[t]he Court will set aside the Commissioner's conclusions only if they are not supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole or are based on an erroneous legal standard.” Koffsky v. Apfel, 26 F.Supp. 475, 478 (E.D.N.Y. Nov. 16, 1998) (Spatt, J.).

         Thus, “the reviewing court does not decide the case de novo.” Pereira v. Astrue, 279 F.R.D. 201, 205 (E.D.N.Y. 2010). Rather, “the findings of the Commissioner as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, are conclusive, ” id., and therefore, the relevant question is not “whether there is substantial evidence to support the [claimant's] view”; instead, the Court “must decide whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision.” Bonet v. Colvin, 523 F. App'x 58, 59 (2d Cir. 2013) (emphasis in original). In this way, the “substantial evidence” standard is “very deferential” to the Commissioner, and allows courts to reject the ALJ's findings “ ‘only if a reasonable factfinder would have to conclude otherwise.' ” Brault v. SSA, 683 F.3d 443, 448 (2d Cir. 2012) (quoting Warren v. Shalala, 29 F.3d 1287, 1290 (8th Cir. 1994)) (emphasis in original). This deferential standard applies not only to factual determinations, but also to inferences and conclusions drawn from such facts.” Pena v. Barnhart, No. 01-cv-502, 2002 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 21427, at *20 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 29, 2002) (citing Levine v. Gardner, 360 F.2d 727, 730 (2d Cir. 1966)).

         In this context, “ ‘[s]ubstantial evidence' means ‘more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.' ” Burgess v. Astrue, 537 F.3d 117, 128 (2d Cir. 2008) (quoting Halloran v. Barnhart, 362 F.3d 28, 31 (2d Cir. 2004)). An ALJ's findings may properly rest on substantial evidence even where he or she fails to “recite every piece of evidence that contributed to the decision, so long as the record ‘permits [the Court] to glean the rationale of [his or her] decision.' ” Cichocki v. Astrue, 729 F.3d 172, 178 n.3 (2d Cir. 2013) (quoting Mongeur v. Heckler, 722 F.2d 1033, 1040 (2d Cir. 1983)). This remains true “even if contrary evidence exists.” Mackey v. Barnhart, ...

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