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Vargas v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. New York

May 25, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          HON. MICHAEL A. TELESCA United States District Judge.


         Represented by counsel, Arcadio Vargas, Jr. (“Plaintiff”) instituted this action pursuant to Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (“the Act”), seeking review of the final decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security (“the Commissioner”)[1]denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). This Court has jurisdiction over the matter pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c).


         Plaintiff protectively filed concurrent applications for DIB and SSI on January 31, 2012. After these applications were denied, Plaintiff requested a hearing, which was scheduled to be held by administrative law judge Joseph L. Brinkley (“the ALJ”) on December 4, 2013. However, the hearing was postponed to give Plaintiff the opportunity to obtain a representative. Plaintiff was unable to find representation, and the hearing was held on May 6, 2014. (T.35-114).[2] On August 14, 2014, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. (T.14-34). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on January 6, 2016, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (T.1-4). This timely action followed.

         The parties have cross-moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The Court adopts and incorporates by reference herein the undisputed and comprehensive factual summaries contained in the parties' briefs. The record will be discussed in more detail below as necessary to the resolution of this appeal. For the reasons that follow, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed.


         The ALJ followed the five-step procedure established by the Commissioner for evaluating disability claims. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. At the first step, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date.

         At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the following “severe” impairments: Raynaud's disease, degenerative disc disease, mechanical instability of the left patella, bilateral leg/neck/back pain, major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, and a learning disability. (T.19-20).

         At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's severe impairments, considered singly or in combination, do not meet or equal one of the impairments listed in the Listings, 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix I. (T.19-21). The ALJ gave particular consideration to Listings 1.02, 1.04, 4.00, 11.00, 12.02, 12.04, 12.06, and 14.00.

         Before proceeding to step four, the ALJ assessed Plaintiff as having the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform a range of light work, with some modifications to the physical and mental demands of such work. Specifically, Plaintiff can sit, stand, and walk each independently for up to one (1) hour at a time without interruption and without the need to rest in between positions; can sit for a total of six (6) hours in an eight-hour workday with interruptions and regularly scheduled breaks; can stand and walk for a combined total of three (3) hours with interruptions and regularly scheduled breaks; can frequently use his upper extremities to handle, finger, grasp, and feel bilaterally; can occasionally reach and lift overhead with his upper extremities, bilaterally; can occasionally operate foot and leg controls with his lower extremities, bilaterally; can occasionally climb ramps or stairs, balance, kneel, and stoop; should never crawl, crouch, or climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; must avoid even moderate exposure to bright, flashing lights and more than fluorescent lighting; and must avoid concentrated exposure to wetness, vibrations, extreme hot or cold temperatures, and workplace hazards including unprotected heights, dangerous machinery, and uneven terrain. Additionally, Plaintiff is limited to performing unskilled, simple, routine, and repetitive tasks; although he can frequently engage in superficial contact with the general public. Finally, he is limited to low-stress work that does not require high-volume production quotas or fast-paced assembly lines. (T.21).

         At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff is unable to perform his past relevant work of building superintendent, delivery driver, or painter, all of which were medium exertion jobs. (T.27).

         At step five, the ALJ relied on the testimony of the VE, who stated that a person of Plaintiff's age (40 years-old at the time of the hearing) and having his RFC, education, and vocational profile, could perform work a surveillance system monitor (D.O.T. 379.367-010, svp 2, sedentary), of which there were greater than 20, 000 jobs in the national economy, and greater than 500 jobs in the state economy). ...

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