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Jaquish v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, N.D. New York

September 6, 2017

DEAN JAQUISH, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          SCHNEIDER & PALCSIK MARK A. SCHNEIDER, ESQ. Counsel for Plaintiff

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

          DECISION AND ORDER

          HON. GLENN T. SUDDABY, CHIEF U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Currently before the Court, in this Social Security action filed by Dean Jaquish (“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. 14, 18.) 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 1961, making him 49 years old at the alleged onset date and 51 years old at the date last insured. Plaintiff reported attending high school until the 9th grade. Plaintiff has past work as a truck driver. Generally, Plaintiff alleges disability due to coronary artery disease, a blocked esophagus, hypertension, depression, hyperlipidemia, mental health problems, osteoarthritis, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, missing ball joint in the right ankle, gastroesophageal reflux disease, and alcoholism.

         B. Procedural History

         Plaintiff applied for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income on June 12, 2013, alleging disability beginning April 26, 2011. Plaintiff's applications were initially denied on September 26, 2013, after which he timely requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). Plaintiff appeared at a video hearing before ALJ Arthur Patane on November 14, 2014. A supplemental video hearing was held on July 31, 2015. On October 8, 2015, the ALJ issued a written decision finding Plaintiff was not disabled under the Social Security Act. (T. 13-34.)[1] On March 30, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of his Disability Insurance Benefits application, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner as to that application. (T. 1-4.)

         C. The ALJ's Decision

         Generally, in his decision, the ALJ made the following seven findings of fact and conclusions of law. (T. 15-33.) First, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was insured for disability benefits under Title II until June 30, 2012. (T. 15.) Second, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date. (Id.) Third, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's affective disorder, anxiety disorder, alcohol abuse disorder, history of ischemic heart disease, high blood pressure, right foot cavus deformity and peroneal tendinitis status post-surgery, degenerative disc disease in the lower lumbar spine, and osteoarthritis are severe impairments, while high cholesterol and esophageal impairments are not severe. (T. 15-16.) Fourth, 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. 16-19.) More specifically, the ALJ considered Listing 1.00 (musculoskeletal system), 1.02 (major dysfunction of a joint), 1.04 (disorders of the spine), 4.00 (cardiovascular system), 5.00 (digestive system), 12.04 (affective disorders), and 12.06 (anxiety related disorders). (Id.) Fifth, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform

light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except the claimant is able to do simple, routine and repetitive tasks, without fast pace, production goals or quotas, can operate foot controls occasionally with the right foot and frequently with the left foot, and should avoid working at heights or around dangerous machinery.

(T. 19.) Six, the ALJ found that the above RFC prevents Plaintiff from performing his past relevant work. (T. 32.) Seventh, the ALJ found that Plaintiff is not disabled at Step Five pursuant to the Medical-Vocational Guidelines because the additional limitations in the RFC have little or no effect on the occupational base of light work. (T. 33.)

         D. The Parties' Briefings on Their Cross-Motions

         Generally, Plaintiff makes five arguments in support of his motion for judgment on the pleadings. First, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to develop the record by not obtaining records from prior to the application date and by not asking Plaintiff's representative at the hearing to obtain material evidence that was missing from the record. (Dkt. No. 14, at 20-22 [Pl. Mem. of Law].) In his reply brief to Defendant's memorandum, Plaintiff elaborates that this duty to develop arose because there were “obvious gaps” in the record and the ALJ therefore did not have a complete medical history. (Dkt. No. 22, at 4 [Pl. Reply Br.].)

         Second, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ violated the treating physician rule and erred in affording greater weight to the reports from consultative sources. (Dkt. No. 14, at 22-27 [Pl. Mem. of Law].) Specifically, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in affording more weight to the opinions of consultative physicians Dr. Wassef, Dr. Hartman, and Dr. Gussoff than to the opinions from the treating orthopedic surgeon, the treating cardiologist, the primary care providers, the treating psychiatrists, and a treating therapist. (Dkt. No. 14, at 26 [Pl. Mem. of Law].)

         Third, Plaintiff argues that he should have been found disabled due to his combination of impairments. (Dkt. No. 14, at 27-28 [Pl. Mem. of Law].) Plaintiff argues that the ALJ did not meet his burden at Step Five of showing that Plaintiff had the ability to perform a full range of light or sedentary work. (Dkt. No. 14, at 28 [Pl. Mem. of Law].) Plaintiff also argues that the ALJ failed to consider his learning disability and borderline intellectual functioning in combination with his other impairments when determining the RFC finding. (Dkt. No. 14, at 31-32 [Pl. Mem. of Law].) Plaintiff additionally argues that the ALJ erred in finding that heart disease and Barrett's esophagus were non-severe impairments. (Dkt. No. 14, at 32 [Pl. Mem. of Law].)

         Fourth, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to provide clear and convincing rationale for discrediting Plaintiff's allegations of limitation. (Dkt. No. 14, at 32-35 [Pl. Mem. of Law].) Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to point to any inconsistencies to support his credibility finding, and that the factors such as Plaintiff's treatment history and work history should have enhanced his credibility. (Dkt. No. 14, at 34-35 [Pl. Mem. of Law].)

         Fifth, and finally, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in failing to consult a vocational expert when making the determination at Step Five. (Dkt. No. 14, at 35 [Pl. Mem. of Law].)[2]

         Generally, Defendant makes five arguments in support of her motion for judgment on the pleadings. First, Defendant argues that the ALJ fulfilled her duty to make reasonable efforts to assist with the development of the record, noting that the Agency contacted sources Plaintiff identified in an effort to obtain evidence. (Dkt. No. 18, at 16-17 [Def. Mem. of Law].) Defendant also notes that Plaintiff's hearing attorney acknowledged that the record was complete other than specified records that attorney indicated he would obtain. (Dkt. No. 18, at 17 [Def. Mem. of Law].)

         Second, Defendant argues the ALJ properly weighed the various opinion evidence related to Plaintiff's physical and mental functioning when formulating the RFC assessment. (Dkt. No. 18, at 18-25 [Def. Mem. of Law].)

         Third, Defendant argues that the credibility finding is supported by substantial evidence, noting that the ALJ considered factors such as Plaintiff's wide range of daily activities, poor compliance with treatment, and a lack of regular treatment. (Dkt. No. 18, at 25-27 [Def. Mem. of Law].)

         Fourth, Defendant argues that the ALJ properly considered Plaintiff's impairments in combination, including those he found were not severe, particularly because he considered all of the medical and non-medical evidence in the record when making his findings. (Dkt. No. 18, at 27-28 [Def. Mem. of Law].)

         Fifth, and finally, Defendant argues that the ALJ was not required to seek testimony from a vocational expert because there was no evidence that Plaintiff's ability to work at the light exertional level was significantly diminished by the presence of non-exertional impairments. (Dkt. No. 18, at 28-29 [Def. Mem. of Law].)

         II. RELEVANT LEGAL STANDARD

         A. Standard of Review

         A court reviewing a denial of disability benefits may not determine de novo whether an individual is disabled. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Wagner v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 906 F.2d 856, 860 (2d Cir. 1990). Rather, the Commissioner's determination will be reversed only if the correct legal standards were not applied, or it was not supported by substantial evidence. See Johnson v. Bowen, 817 F.2d 983, 986 (2d Cir. 1987) (“Where there is a reasonable basis for doubt whether the ALJ applied correct legal principles, application of the substantial evidence standard to uphold a finding of no disability creates an unacceptable risk that a claimant will be deprived of the right to have her disability determination made according to the correct legal principles.”); accord Grey v. Heckler, 721 F.2d 41, 46 (2d Cir. 1983), Marcus v. Califano, 615 F.2d 23, 27 (2d Cir. 1979). “Substantial evidence” is evidence that amounts to “more than a mere scintilla, ” and has been defined as “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 1427 (1971). Where evidence is deemed susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the Commissioner's conclusion must be upheld. Rutherford v. Schweiker, 685 F.2d 60, 62 (2d Cir. 1982).

         “To determine on appeal whether the ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence, a reviewing court considers the whole record, examining evidence from both sides, because an analysis of the substantiality of the evidence must also include that which detracts from its weight.” Williams v. Bowen, 859 F.2d 255, 258 (2d Cir. 1988). If supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's finding must be sustained “even where substantial evidence may support the plaintiff's position and despite that the court's independent analysis of the evidence may differ from the [Commissioner's].” Rosado v. Sullivan, 805 F.Supp. 147, 153 (S.D.N.Y. 1992). In other words, this Court must afford the Commissioner's determination considerable deference, and may not substitute “its own ...


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