United States District Court, N.D. New York
SCHNEIDER & PALCSIK MARK A. SCHNEIDER, ESQ. Counsel for
SOCIAL SECURITY ADMIN. OFFICE OF REG'L GEN. COUNSEL -
REGION II PADMA GHATAGE, ESQ. Counsel for Defendant
DECISION AND ORDER
GLENN T. SUDDABY, CHIEF U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.
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.
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
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.) 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.)
The ALJ's Decision
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.)
The Parties' Briefings on Their Cross-Motions
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
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].)
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
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].)
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
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].)
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].)
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].)
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.
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].)
RELEVANT LEGAL STANDARD
Standard of Review
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).
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 ...