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Baker v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. New York

May 16, 2017

THERESA BAKER, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          DECISION AND ORDER

          HON. MICHAEL A. TELESCA United States District Judge

         I. Introduction

         Represented by counsel, Theresa Baker (“plaintiff”) brings this action pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act (“the Act”), seeking review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“the Commissioner”) denying her application for disability insurance benfits (“DIB”). The Court has jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Presently before the Court are the parties' cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons discussed below, the Commissioner's motion is granted.

         II. Procedural History

         The record reveals that in January 2012, plaintiff (d/o/b February 6, 1980) applied for DIB, alleging disability as of April 18, 2010. After her application was denied, plaintiff requested a hearing, which was held before administrative law judge Timothy McGuan (“the ALJ”) on January 15, 2014. The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on August 6, 2014. The Appeals Council denied review of the ALJ's decision and this timely action followed.

         III. The ALJ's Decision

         Initially, the ALJ found that plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through December 31, 2015. At step one of the five-step sequential evaluation process, see 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520, the ALJ determined that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 18, 2010, the alleged onset date. At step two, the ALJ found that plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: myofascial pain syndrom; C5-C6 disc herniation with nerve entrapment; fibromyalgia; and chronis thyroiditis. At step three, the ALJ found that plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled a listed impairment.

         Before proceeding to step four, the ALJ determined that, considering all of plaintiff's impairments, plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b), “with the following limitations: she can stand and walk up to four hours in an eight-hour workday.” T. 31. At step four, the ALJ found that plaintiff was able to perform past relevant work as a debt collector. Accordingly, the ALJ found plaintiff disabled at step four and did not proceed to step five.

         IV. Discussion

         A district court may set aside the Commissioner's determination that a claimant is not disabled only if the factual findings are not supported by “substantial evidence” or if the decision is based on legal error. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); see also Green-Younger v. Barnhart, 335 F.3d 99, 105-06 (2d Cir. 2003). “Substantial evidence means ‘such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'” Shaw v. Chater, 221 F.3d 126, 131 (2d Cir. 2000).

         A. Treating Physician Rule

         Plaintiff contends that the ALJ violated the treating physician rule in assessing the opinion of Dr. Carlos Martinez, one of plaintiff's treating physicians. The treating physician rule provides that an ALJ must give controlling weight to a treating physician's opinion if that opinion is well-supported by medically acceptable clinical and diagnostic techniques and not inconsistent with other substantial evidence in the record. See Halloran v. Barnhart, 362 F.3d 28, 32 (2d Cir. 2004); 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(c)(2). An ALJ must give “good reasons” for discounting the opinion of a treating physician. See Coluciello-Pitkouvich v. Astrue, 2014 WL 4954664, *6 (E.D.N.Y. Sept. 30, 2014) (“[T]he ALJ must expressly state the weight assigned and provide ‘good reasons' for why the particular weight was assigned to each treating source's opinion.”) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(2)).

         Plaintiff contends that the ALJ violated the treating physician rule by incorrectly stating that Dr. Carlos Martinez, plaintiff's treating physician, “never indicated that [plaintiff] was totally disabled.” Doc. 10-1 (quoting T. 40). Plaintiff argues that “Dr. Martinez specifically opined that [plaintiff] was ‘currently still unable to work' on February 11, 2013.” Id. (citing T. 689). According to plaintiff, the ALJ failed to give “good reasons” for rejecting this February 11, 2013 opinion.

         Dr. Martinez's statement, contained within the context of a single treatment note, does not indicate that plaintiff was totally disabled - meaning disabled for a period of not less than 12 months, see 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A) - but merely that plaintiff was “currently” not able to work. Thus, the ALJ correctly noted that Dr. Martinez never opined that plaintiff was totally disabled, contrary to plaintiff's argument. The Court thus finds that ...


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