United States District Court, W.D. New York
DECISION AND ORDER
G. LARIMER United States District Judge.
appeals from a denial of disability benefits by the
Commissioner of Social Security (“the
Commissioner”). The action is one brought pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to review the Commissioner's
12, 2012, plaintiff filed applications for a period of
disability and disability insurance benefits under Title II
of the Social Security Act, and supplemental security income
under Title XVI. Plaintiff alleged an inability to work since
May 14, 2011. (Tr. 22). Her applications were initially denied.
Plaintiff requested a hearing, which was held November 4,
2013 via videoconference before Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) John P. Ramos. The ALJ issued an
unfavorable decision on February 4, 2014, concluding that
plaintiff was not disabled under the Social Security Act.
That decision became the final decision of the Commissioner
when the Appeals Council denied review on April 20, 2015.
(Tr. 1-3). Plaintiff now appeals.
plaintiff has moved to remand the matter, and the
Commissioner has cross moved for judgment on the pleadings,
pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 12(c). For the reasons set
forth below, plaintiff's motion for remand (Dkt. #14) is
granted, and the Commissioner's cross motion (Dkt. #15)
The ALJ's Evaluation
proceeds though a five-step evaluation in determining whether
a claimant is disabled within the meaning of the Social
Security Act. See Bowen v. City of New York, 476
U.S. 467, 470-71 (1986). At step one, the ALJ determines
whether the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful work
activity. See 20 CFR §404.1520(b). If so, the claimant
is not disabled. If not, then the ALJ continues to step two,
and determines whether the claimant has an impairment or
combination of impairments that is “severe, ”
e.g., that imposes significant restrictions on the
claimant's ability to perform basic work activities. 20
CFR §404.1520(c). If not, the analysis concludes with a
finding of “not disabled.” If so, the ALJ
proceeds to step three.
three, the ALJ examines whether the claimant's impairment
meets or equals the criteria of a listed impairment in
Appendix 1 of Subpart P of Regulation No. 4. If the
impairment meets or medically equals the criteria of a
listing and meets the durational requirement (20 CFR
§404.1509), the claimant is disabled. If not, the
ALJ's analysis proceeds to step four, and the ALJ
determines the claimant's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”), which is the ability to perform physical
or mental work activities on a sustained basis,
notwithstanding limitations for the collective impairments.
See 20 CFR §404.1520(e), (f).
then turns to whether the claimant's RFC permits
performance of the requirements of the claimant's past
relevant work. If so, the claimant is not disabled. If not,
analysis proceeds to the fifth and final step, wherein the
burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that the claimant
is not disabled, by presenting evidence demonstrating that
the claimant “retains a residual functional capacity to
perform alternative substantial gainful work which exists in
the national economy” in light of his age, education,
and work experience. See Rosa v. Callahan, 168 F.3d
72, 77 (2d Cir.1999) (quoting Bapp v. Bowen, 802
F.2d 601, 604 (2d Cir.1986)). See 20 CFR
Commissioner's decision that plaintiff is not disabled
must be affirmed if it is supported by substantial evidence,
and if the ALJ has applied the correct legal standards.
See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Machadio v.
Apfel, 276 F.3d 103, 108 (2d Cir.2002). Substantial
evidence is defined as “more than a mere scintilla. It
means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971).
“The Court carefully considers the whole record,
examining evidence from both sides ‘because an analysis
of the substantiality of the evidence must also include that
which detracts from its weight.'” Tejada v.
Apfel, 167 F.3d 770, 774 (2d Cir. 1998) (quoting
Quinones v. Chater, 117 F.3d 29, 33 (2d Cir.1997)).
Nonetheless, “it is not the function of a reviewing
court to decide de novo whether a claimant was
disabled.” Melville v. Apfel, 198 F.3d 45, 52
(2d Cir.1999). “Where the Commissioner's decision
rests on adequate findings supported by evidence having
rational probative force, [this Court] will not substitute
[its] judgment for that of the Commissioner.” Veino
v. Barnhart, 312 F.3d 578, 586 (2d Cir.2002).
same level of deference is not owed to the Commissioner's
conclusions of law. See Townley v. Heckler, 748 F.2d
109, 112 (2d Cir.1984). This Court must independently
determine if the Commissioner's decision applied the
correct legal standards in determining that the plaintiff was
not disabled. “Failure to apply the correct legal
standards is grounds for reversal.” Id., 748
F.2d at 112. Therefore, this Court first examines the legal
standards applied, and then, if the standards were correctly
applied, considers the substantiality of the evidence.
Johnson v. Bowen, 817 F.2d 983, 985 (2d Cir.1987).
See also Schaal v. Apfel, 134 F.3d 496, 504 (2d
the ALJ determined that the plaintiff had severe impairments
consisting of degenerative disc disease of the lumbar and
cervical spine, degenerative joint disease of the left
shoulder, adjustment disorder with depression and anxiety,
cognitive disorder, and substance abuse disorder. He found
that plaintiff was capable of performing sedentary work, with
the following limitations: no more than occasional
performance of postural activities such as kneeling,
squatting, crouching, and crawling; avoidance of walking on
uneven terrain and up inclines, ramps and stairs; avoidance
of overhead reaching with both arms, but able to grasp, hold,
turn, raise and lower objects with either hand; ability to
perform fine manipulation, to understand and follow simple
instructions, perform simple tasks with supervision and/or
independently, ability to maintain attention and
concentration for simple tasks, ability to attend to a
routine and maintain a schedule, relate and interact with
others to carry out simple tasks, and handle reasonable
levels of simple work-related stress. (Tr. 27-28). Because
the ALJ found that plaintiff's limitations did not
significantly erode her ability to perform a full range of
sedentary work, he applied the Medical-Vocational Guidelines
to find plaintiff “not disabled.”
Applicability of Listing 1.04
first argues that the ALJ should have found, at step 3, that
her impairments met the requirements of a listed impairment -
specifically, Listing 1.04, titled Disorders of ...