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Lockwood v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.

United States District Court, N.D. New York

June 20, 2017

STEPHEN LOCKWOOD, Plaintiff,
v.
COMM'R OF SOC. SEC., Defendant.

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

          U.S. SOCIAL SECURITY ADMIN. ANDREEA L. LECHLEITNER, ESQ. Office of Reg'l Gen Counsel, Region II Counsel for Defendant

          MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

          CHRISTIAN F. HUMMEL, United States Magistrate Judge

         Currently before the Court, in this Social Security action filed by Stephen Lockwood (“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. Nos. 9, 11.) For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings is denied, and Defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings is granted. The Commissioner's decision denying Plaintiff's disability benefits is affirmed, and Plaintiff's Complaint is dismissed.

         I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         Plaintiff was born in 1964, making him 47 years old at the alleged onset date and 50 years old at the date of the ALJ's decision. (T. 33)[1] Plaintiff reported graduating from high school. (Id.). The ALJ found he has past relevant work as a corrections officer, landscape laborer, and forklift operator. (Id. at 23). Generally, Plaintiff alleges disability consisting of injuries to his neck, lower back, bilateral hands, and shoulder.

         B. Procedural History

         Plaintiff applied for Disability Insurance Benefits on July 26, 2013, alleging disability beginning November 11, 2011. Plaintiff's application was initially denied on October 8, 2013, after which he timely requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). Plaintiff appeared at a video hearing before ALJ Lisa B. Martin on June 2, 2014. (T. 28-43). On October 27, 2013, the ALJ issued a written decision finding Plaintiff not disabled under the Social Security Act. (Id. 17-24.) On May 3, 2016, the Appeals Council granted Plaintiff's request for review, adopting the majority of the ALJ's findings and rationale, but adding their own specific findings to support the presence of a substantial number of jobs that Plaintiff could perform when considering his change in age category during the relevant period. (Id. 1-8.)

         C. The ALJ's Decision

         Generally, in her decision, the ALJ made the following seven findings of fact and conclusions of law. (T. 19-24.) First, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was insured for benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act until December 31, 2016. (T. 19.) Second, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of November 11, 2011. (Id.) Third, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's cervical spine disorder, left shoulder disorder, and bilateral carpal tunnel disorder are severe impairments. (Id.) Fourth, the ALJ concluded 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”). (Id.) In so concluding, the ALJ considered Listings 1.00 (musculoskeletal system) and 11.00 (neurological disorders). (Id.) Fifth, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform

a full range of light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b), except the claimant needs a brief (one to two minute) change of position opportunity as often as every 45 minutes and is limited to lifting/carrying 15 pounds on an occasional basis. The claimant must avoid all climbing ladders, ropes, and scaffolding, and is limited to occasional climbing of ramps and stairs, balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling. Additionally, the claimant must avoid all overhead reaching tasks and constant upper extremity reaching, handling, and fingering tasks as well as avoid all dangerous work hazards (including unprotected heights and exposed machinery). Overall, the claimant is unable to perform full neck rotation activities.

(T. 19-20.) Sixth, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has past relevant work, but is unable to perform any of those jobs with the above limitations. (T. 23.) Finally, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff is not disabled at Step Five because he retains the ability to perform other work in the national economy as a retail clerk, new account clerk, and sub-assembler of small electrical parts. (T. 23-24.)

         D. The Appeals Council's Decision

         The Appeals Council granted review of Plaintiff's claim due to the ALJ's failure to discuss and account for Plaintiff's change in age category from a younger individual to an individual closely approaching advanced age during the period at issue. (T. 4-5.) The Appeals Council adopted the ALJ's findings related to Steps One through Four of the sequential evaluation, but modified the finding at Step Five, indicating that Plaintiff was not disabled either before or after the age change because he remained able to perform the light and sedentary occupations identified by the vocational expert and the ALJ. (T. 5-7.) The Appeals Council therefore concluded that Plaintiff had not been disabled at any time from his alleged onset date through October 27, 2014, the date of the ALJ's decision. (T. 7.)

         E. Parties' Arguments

         Generally, Plaintiff asserts two arguments in support of his motion for judgment on the pleadings. First Plaintiff argues that the ALJ committed harmful error in failing to address and resolve conflicts between the vocational expert's testimony and the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (“D.O.T.”). (Dkt. No. 9, at 5-7 [Pl. Mem. of Law].) More specifically, Plaintiff argues that there was a conflict between a limitation for avoidance of all overhead reaching and the specification in the Selected Characteristics of Occupations (“S.C.O.”) that the jobs identified by the vocational expert required the ability to reach frequently. (Id.) Plaintiff also argues that the ALJ failed to solicit an explanation for the inconsistency between the RFC for lifting and carrying a maximum of 15 pounds occasionally with the definition of light work, which he asserts requires the ability to lift and carry up to 20 pounds occasionally. (Dkt. No. 9, at 7 [Pl. Mem. of Law].)

         Second, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ committed harmful error in failing to consider or account for a statement from Nurse Practitioner Carmelita Woods, N.P., that Plaintiff had a 50 percent impairment of the right hand and 25 percent ...


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