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Kociuba v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, N.D. New York

May 19, 2017

MICHAEL KOCIUBA, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          LAW OFFICES OF STEVEN R. DOLSON STEVEN R. DOLSON, ESQ. Counsel for Plaintiff

          U.S. SOCIAL SECURITY ADMIN. OFFICE OF REG'L GEN. COUNSEL - REGION II Counsel for Defendant

          STEVEN R. DOLSON, ESQ., JEREMY A. LINDEN, ESQ. Special Assistant U.S. Attorney

          Hon. Glenn T. Suddaby Chief U.S. District Judge.

          DECISION AND ORDER

         Currently before the Court, in this Social Security action filed by Michael Kociuba (“Plaintiff”) against the Commissioner of Social Security (“Defendant” or “the Commissioner”) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), are Plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings and Defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings. (Dkt. No. 10, 12.) For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings is granted and Defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings is denied.

         I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         Plaintiff was born in 1958, making him 53 years old at the alleged onset date and 55 years old at the date of the ALJ's decision. Plaintiff reported graduating high school and obtaining an Associate's Degree in Mechanical Technology in the 1990s or 2000s, and has past work as a heating and air conditioning installer servicer and material handler. Plaintiff was insured for disability benefits under Title II until December 31, 2016. Generally, Plaintiff alleges disability consisting of anxiety, depression, arthritis, diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, acid reflux, sleep apnea, and hearing difficulties.

         B. Procedural History

         Plaintiff applied for Title II Disability Insurance Benefits on December 19, 2012, alleging disability beginning April 23, 2012. Plaintiff's application was initially denied on March 29, 2013, after which he timely requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). On June 19, 2014, Plaintiff appeared at a video hearing before ALJ Joseph L. Brinkley. On October 3, 2014, the ALJ issued a written decision finding Plaintiff not disabled under the Social Security Act. (T. 12-23.) On December 28, 2015, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (T. 1-3.)

         C. The ALJ's Decision

         Generally, in his decision, the ALJ made the following six findings of fact and conclusions of law. (T. 12-23.) First, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 23, 2012. (T. 14.) Second, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's sleep apnea, arthritis status-post laminectomy, bilateral hearing loss, obesity, type II diabetes mellitus, hypertension, tobacco abuse, anxiety, depression, and history of panic disorder are severe impairments. (Id.) Third, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's severe impairments do not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, App. 1 (the “Listings”). (T. 15-16.) More specifically, the ALJ considered Listings 1.02 (major dysfunction of a joint), 2.00 (special senses and speech), 3.00 (respiratory disorders), 4.00 (cardiovascular system), 9.00 (endocrine disorders), 12.04 (mood disorders) and 12.06 (anxiety disorders). (Id.) Fourth, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform

medium work, as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(c) except, the claimant: can occasionally lift/reach overhead with the bilateral upper extremities. He can occasionally twist, climb ramps and stairs, balance, kneel, and stoop, but can never crawl, crouch, or climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds. He must avoid louder than an office noise-type environment and avoid even moderate exposure to environmental irritants and humidity. In addition, he must avoid concentrated exposure to wetness, vibrations, extreme hot or cold temperatures, as well as workplace hazards-including unprotected heights, dangerous machinery, and uneven terrain. Further, he is limited to simple, routine, and repetitive tasks, and to engaging in low-stress work that does not require high volume production quotas.

(T. 16.) Fifth, the ALJ found that Plaintiff is unable to perform any past relevant work. (T. 22.) Sixth, and finally, the ALJ determined that there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform, including laundry worker, dietary aide, and body assembler. (T. 22-23.)

         D. The Parties' Briefings on Their Cross-Motions

         Generally, Plaintiff asserts three arguments in support of his motion for judgment on the pleadings. First, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in failing to properly apply the treating physician rule. (Dkt. No. 10, at 4-8 [Pl. Mem. of Law].) More specifically, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in failing to afford controlling weight to the opinions of Dr. Robinson or, in the alternative, to “explicitly consider the factors outlined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c).” (Id.) Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's reasons for rejecting Dr. Robinson's opinion do not constitute good reasons as required by the regulations and that the ALJ erred in failing to consider factors such as whether these opinions were consistent with the evidence in the record as a whole. (Dkt. No. 10, at 7 [Pl. Mem. of Law].) Second, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ committed reversible error in accounting for the opinion of a Single Decision Maker[1] when formulating the RFC. (Dkt. No. 10, at 8-10 [Pl. Mem. of Law].)

         Third, and finally, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in failing to resolve conflicts between the vocational expert's testimony and the Dictionary of Occupational Titles. (Dkt. No. 10, at 10- [Pl. Mem. of Law].) More specifically, Plaintiff argues that (1) the ALJ failed to reconcile the hypothetical question containing a limitation to occasional overhead reaching with the vocational expert's testimony that Plaintiff would be able to perform three jobs that the Dictionary of Occupational Titles indicated as requiring the ability to frequently reach, (2) the ALJ's limitation for the need to avoid even moderate exposure to humidity and concentrated exposure to wetness and extreme heat are inconsistent with the characteristics listed in the Selected Characteristics of Occupations for the jobs identified by the vocational expert, and (3) there is a conflict between the ALJ's finding that Plaintiff could never crouch and the ...


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