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
November 9, 2012, plaintiff filed applications for a period
of disability and disability insurance benefits under Title
II of the Social Security Act. Plaintiff alleged an inability
to work since April 1, 2012. (Dkt. #8 at 20). His application
was initially denied. Plaintiff requested a hearing, which
was held April 10, 2014 via videoconference before
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Rosanne M.
Dummer. The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on April 25,
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
July 9, 2015 (Dkt. #8 at 1-3). Plaintiff now appeals.
plaintiff has moved, 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, the
Commissioner's cross motion (Dkt. #15) is granted,
plaintiff's motion (Dkt. #10) is denied, and the
complaint is dismissed.
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)).
Still, “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.” Townley,
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 Cir.1998).
the ALJ determined that the plaintiff was capable of
performing sedentary work, with the following limitations:
lifting and carrying up to 10 to 15 pounds; sitting, standing
and/or walking for 6 hours in an 8-hour workday; avoidance of
ladders, ropes, scaffolds and unprotected heights; no more
than occasional climbing of ramps or stairs, balancing,
stooping, kneeling, crouching and crawling; requiring the
option to change positions from sitting to standing, briefly,
on the hour; and requiring the use of a cane to ambulate.
(Dkt. #8 at 23). When presented with this RFC, vocational
expert Dian L. Haller testified that plaintiff could perform
the positions of rental clerk, ticket seller, new account
clerk, final assembler, and touchup inspector. (Dkt. #8 at
treatment records reflect a history of complaints of back
pain with antalgic gait (indicating pain on weight-bearing)
offset by the use of a cane and/or walker, and treated with
medication. The ALJ's finding concerning plaintiff's
RFC is consistent with the medical evidence of record.
plaintiff contends that the ALJ failed to sufficiently
support her decision not to give controlling weight to the
opinions of treating physiatrist Dr. Clifford Ameduri (Dkt.
#8 at 401-09, 648-56). Dr. Ameduri's initial opinion,
rendered November 28, 2012, opined that plaintiff could sit
for no more than fifteen or thirty minutes at a time and
could stand or walk for no more than five minutes at a time,
required the use of a cane to ambulate, could never reach,
push or pull with his hands, could never climb, balance,
stoop, kneel, crouch or crawl, and would likely miss two or
more days of work per month due to pain (although the same
report curiously opined that plaintiff would have no issues
with productivity due to pain, because pain is “not the
problem”). (Dkt. #8 at 401-09). A second opinion by Dr.
Ameduri, dated March 10, 2014, stated that plaintiff could
sit for no more than 1-2 minutes at a time, could stand or
walk for up to 15 minutes, no longer needed a cane to
ambulate, could occasionally reach, push or pull with his
hands, could occasionally climb or balance but could never
stoop, kneel, crouch or crawl, would likely miss two or more
days of work per month due to pain, and would see a greater
than 20-25% decrease in productivity on “bad
days.” (Dkt. #8 at 648-56). The only objective evidence
cited to support those opinions was plaintiff's April 20,
2012 spinal MRI. (Dkt. #8 at 372-73, 392-93).
treating physician's opinion is entitled to controlling
weight if it is well-supported by medical findings, and is
not inconsistent with other substantial evidence. See
Rosa v. Callahan, 168 F.3d 72, 78 (2d Cir. 1999). If an
ALJ opts not to afford controlling weight to the opinion of a
treating physician, the ALJ must consider: (1) the examining
relationship; (2) the extent of the treatment relationship;
(3) medical support for the opinion: (4) consistency; and (5)
the physician's specialization, along with any other
relevant factors. 29 C.F.R. §404.1527(d)(2). An
ALJ's failure to apply these ...