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Kane v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, N.D. New York

June 9, 2017

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

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

          SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION MICHELLE L. CHRIST, ESQ. Attorney for Defendant

          MEMORANDUM-DECISION and ORDER

          Daniel J. Stewart Magistrate Judge

         In this action, Plaintiff Michael Kane moves, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), for review of a decision by the Acting Commissioner of Social Security denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Period of Disability (“POD”).[2] Based upon the following discussion, the Acting Commissioner's decision denying Social Security benefits is affirmed.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Kane, born on November 21, 1969, filed an application for DIB and POD on November 25, 2013, claiming an inability to work as of March 29, 2012, due to a variety of ailments, including lumbar spine impairment, ruptured discs, degenerative arthritis, and bilateral lower extremity neuropathy. Dkt. No. 10, Admin. Tr. [hereinafter “Tr.”] at pp. 15, 22, 57, 80, 153-55, & 181. Kane graduated high school and his past work includes working with individuals, aged twelve through eighteen, as a youth group worker. Id. at pp. 16, 22, & 58-59. On March 29, 2012, the alleged onset disability date, Plaintiff sustained an injury to his back at work while breaking up a fight between the youths that he watched. Id. at p. 294. Prior to this incident, records reflect that Kane had prior history of chronic back pain treated with opiates. Id. at p. 295.

         Kane's disability application was denied on initial review. Id. at pp. 79, 80-88, & 91-102. On January 22, 2015, a Hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Rosanne M. Dummer wherein testimony was procured from Kane, who was accompanied by an attorney, and from Mark A. Pinti, a vocational expert (“VE”).[3] Id. at pp. 53-78. On April 3, 2015, ALJ Dummer issued an unfavorable decision finding that Kane was not disabled. Id. at pp. 9-27. On May 25, 2016, the Appeals Council concluded there was no basis to review the ALJ's decision, thus rendering the ALJ's decision the final determination of the Acting Commissioner. Id. at pp. 1-6. Exhausting all of his options for review through the Social Security Administration's tribunals, Plaintiff now brings this appeal.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Standard of Review

         Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the proper standard of review for this Court is not to employ a de novo review, but rather to discern whether substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's findings and that the correct legal standards have been applied. See Rivera v. Sullivan, 923 F.2d 964, 967 (2d Cir. 1991); Urtz v. Callahan, 965 F.Supp. 324, 325-26 (N.D.N.Y. 1997) (citing, inter alia, Johnson v. Bowen, 817 F.2d 983, 985 (2d Cir. 1987)). Succinctly defined, substantial evidence is “more than a mere scintilla” of evidence scattered throughout the administrative record; rather, it is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Consol. Edison Co. of New York v. N.L.R.B., 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938); see also Williams ex. rel. Williams v. Bowen, 859 F.2d 255, 258 (2d Cir. 1988). “To determine on appeal whether an [Administrative Law Judge's] findings are supported by substantial evidence, a reviewing court considers the whole record, examining the evidence from both sides, because an analysis of the substantiality of the evidence must also include that which detracts from its weight.” Williams ex. rel. Williams v. Bowen, 859 F.2d at 258.

         The ALJ must set forth the crucial factors supporting the decision with sufficient specificity. Ferraris v. Heckler, 728 F.2d 582, 587 (2d Cir. 1984). Where the ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence, the court may not interject its interpretation of the administrative record. Williams ex rel. Williams v. Bowen, 859 F.2d at 258; 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). However, where the weight of the evidence does not meet the requirement for substantial evidence or a reasonable basis for doubt exists as to whether correct legal principles were applied, the ALJ's decision may not be affirmed. Johnson v. Bowen, 817 F.2d at 986.

         B. Determination of Disability

         To be considered disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act, a plaintiff must establish an “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). Furthermore, the claimant's physical or mental impairments must be of such severity as to prevent engagement in any kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy. Id. at § 423(d)(2)(A).

         In determining whether a claimant is disabled, the Commissioner follows a five-step analysis set forth in the Social Security Administration Regulations. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. At Step One, the Commissioner “considers whether the claimant is currently engaged in gainful activity.” Berry v. Schweiker, 675 F.2d 464, 467 (2d Cir. 1982). If the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity, he or she is not disabled and the inquiry ends. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b). If the claimant is not engaged in substantial gainful activity, the Commissioner proceeds to Step Two and assesses whether the claimant suffers from a severe impairment that significantly limits his or her physical or mental ability to do basic work activities. Id. at § 404.1520(c). If the claimant suffers from a severe impairment, the Commissioner considers at Step Three whether such impairment(s) meets or equals an impairment listed in Appendix 1, in Part 404, Subpart P of the Regulations. Id. at § 404.1520(d). The Commissioner makes this assessment without considering vocational factors such as age, education, and work experience. Berry v. Schweiker, 675 F.2d at 467. Where the claimant has such an impairment the inquiry ceases as he or she is presumed to be disabled and unable to perform substantial gainful activity. Id. If the claimant's impairment(s) does not meet or equal the listed impairments, the Commissioner proceeds to Step Four and considers whether the claimant has the residual functional ...


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