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Stevenson v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. New York

May 31, 2017

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


          HON. MICHAEL A. TELESCA United States District Judge.


         Represented by counsel, Dan Ray Stevenson (“Plaintiff”) instituted this action pursuant to Title II 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”). This Court has jurisdiction over the matter pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c).


         Plaintiff filed an application for DIB on November 20, 2012, alleging disability beginning October 31, 2009. (T.120-26).[2] After this application was denied (T.78-81), Plaintiff requested a hearing, which was held in Buffalo, New York, on August 12, 2014, by administrative law judge Timothy J. Trost (“the ALJ”) (See T.26-65, 84-85). Plaintiff appeared with his attorney and testified. The ALJ did not call any witnesses. On December 11, 2014, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. (T.9-21). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on March 21, 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.

         At step one, Plaintiff was found to meet the insured status requirements of the Act through December 31, 2014. He had not engaged in substantial gainful activity (“SGA”) since October 31, 2009, the alleged onset date.

         At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following “severe” impairments: Asperger's Syndrome, anxiety disorder, and depressive disorder. (T.14). The ALJ also determined that Plaintiff has the following non-severe impairments: hypertension, flat feet, diabetes mellitus (type 2), congestive heart failure, hyperlipidemia, and obesity, but that these impairments fail to produce more than a minimal effect on Plaintiff's ability to perform basic work activities, a finding which Plaintiff does not contest on appeal.

         At step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's impairments, considered singly or in combination, do not satisfy the criteria of any impairment in the Listings of Impairments, set forth at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (T.15). In particular, the ALJ considered the following Listings: 12.04 (Affective Disorders), 1.06 (Anxiety-related Disorders), and 12.10 (Autistic Disorder and other pervasive developmental disorders). With regard to the “paragraph B” criteria for these listed impairments, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff does not have “marked” limitations in any domains of functioning. In regards to activities of daily living, Plaintiff has “mild” restrictions. The ALJ noted that Plaintiff lives with his parents but he can cook, clean, launder, manage his medications and grocery shop, dress, bathe, and groom independently; and he has hobbies and interests including Dungeons and Dragons, stop-motion animation, outdoor survival, reading, and collecting television shows on DVD. In the area of social functioning, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has “mild” difficulties. Although Plaintiff reported that he never really had many friends, the ALJ noted, Plaintiff has been involved in a Dungeons and Dragons club since 2007, he does see one of the players outside of meetings, he describes his family relationships as “okay”, and he can identify basic emotions of other people, though he has difficulty noticing subtler, non-verbal feedback. With regard to the ability to maintaint concentration, persistence or pace, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has “moderate” difficulties and noted that the record supports “some” of the deterioration claimed by Plaintiff in this category. As for episodes of decompensation, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has not experienced any such episodes at all.

         Prior to proceeding to step four, the ALJ assessed Plaintiff as having the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform “essentially the full range of all work activities” with some “minor” non-exertional limitations due to his Asperger's Syndrome, depression and anxiety disorders. In particular, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff “retains the ability to do the following on a sustained basis in a competitive employment setting: learn, remember and carry out job functions, concentrate upon and attend to the duties of the job, make appropriate employment-related judgments, respond to supervision and co-workers in usual job settings, deal appropriately with routine changes in the work setting in a work environment free of unexpected loud noises.” (T.18).

         At step four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has past relevant work as a metal finisher (performed at the “heavy” exertional level) and a kitchen helper (performed at the “medium” exertional level). The ALJ noted that Plaintiff worked as a metal finisher from September 2000, to October 2009; his employment ended not due to his impairments but because the company he worked for went out of business following the recession. The ALJ found that Plaintiff also could perform his past relevant work as a kitchen helper, which he performed on a part-time basis, but at SGA levels, from January 1991, to January 2000. (T.20-21).

         Because the ALJ found that Plaintiff could perform his past relevant work, the ALJ did not proceed to step five. Accordingly, ...

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