Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Wolf v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. New York

November 8, 2017

MARGARET K. WOLF, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          DECISION AND ORDER

          HON. MICHAEL A. TELESCA, United States District Judge

         I. Introduction

         Represented by counsel, Margaret K. Wolf (“Plaintiff”) brings 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[1] (“Defendant” or “the Commissioner”) denying her application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). Presently before the Court are the parties' competing motions for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's motion is granted and Defendant's motion is denied.

         II. Procedural History

         On March 27, 2014, Plaintiff filed for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits, alleging disability beginning November 1, 2013 due to back disorder (discogenic and degenerative) and affective disorder (T. 110, 217-23).[2] Plaintiff's application was denied on June 3, 2014 (T. 154-61), and she timely requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). ALJ Robert T. Harvey held a hearing on October 14, 2015 (T. 43-78), and, on October 26th, issued a decision in which he found Plaintiff was not disabled as defined in the Act (T. 22-40). On April 7, 2016, the Appeals Council denied review leaving the ALJ's decision as the final agency decision (T. 1-7). This action followed. The Court assumes the parties' familiarity with the facts of this case, which will not be repeated here. The Court will discuss the record further below as necessary to the resolution of the parties' contentions.

         III. The ALJ's Decision

         Initially, the ALJ found that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through December 31, 2016 (T. 27). At step one of the five-step sequential evaluation, see 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 1, 2013, the alleged onset date (Id.). At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the severe impairments of discogenic cervical and lumbar spine, cervical and lumbar radiculopathy, headaches and depressive disorder with anxious mood (Id.). At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of a listed impairment (T. 28-30). Before proceeding to step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(b) except that Plaintiff: (1) could not work in areas with unprotected heights, or around heavy, moving or dangerous machinery; (2) should never climb ropes, ladders, or scaffolds; (3) could not work in areas where she would be exposed to cold or dampness, (4) has occasional limitations in the ability to handle (gross manipulation), bend, climb, stoop, squat, kneel, balance, crawl; and (5) has occasional limitations in the ability to respond appropriately to changes in the work setting and deal with stress (T. 30-34). At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work (T. 34). At step five, the ALJ found, considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, that jobs exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform (T. 35). Accordingly, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled (T. 36).

         IV. Scope of Review

         A district court may set aside the Commissioner's determination that a claimant is not disabled only if the factual findings are not supported by “substantial evidence” or if the decision is based on legal error. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); see also Green-Younger v. Barnhart, 335 F.3d 99, 105-06 (2d Cir. 2003). “Substantial evidence means ‘such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'” Shaw v. Chater, 221 F.3d 126, 131 (2d Cir. 2000). “The deferential standard of review for substantial evidence does not apply to the Commissioner's conclusions of law.” Byam v. Barnhart, 336 F.3d 172, 179 (2d Cir. 2003) (citing Townley v. Heckler, 748 F.2d 109, 112 (2d Cir. 1984)).

         V. Discussion

         Plaintiff makes the following arguments in support of her motion for judgment on the pleadings: (1) the ALJ's RFC assessment is unsupported by substantial evidence because the ALJ failed to develop the record by obtaining a treating medical opinion as to Plaintiff's physical limitations and (2) the ALJ erred in failing to do a full and proper credibility assessment of Plaintiff as required under SSR 96-7p and 20 C.F.R. § 404.1529.

         A. Duty to Develop the Record and Bare Medical Findings

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's RFC assessment is unsupported by substantial evidence because the ALJ had no competent medical source opinion from which to draw his conclusion that Plaintiff was limited as delineated in the RFC finding (Docket 9 at 16-17). Plaintiff requests that this matter be remanded to the ALJ for a new hearing to address this error (Id. at 21). In response, the Commissioner contends that the ALJ was under no obligation to re-contact a treating physician to obtain a specific RFC assessment, particularly where the record contains sufficient evidence for the ALJ to assess a claimant's RFC and where Plaintiff has the burden of proof as to disability (Docket 10 at 10-13).

         The regulations provide that although a claimant is generally responsible for furnishing evidence upon which to base an RFC assessment, before the Administration makes a disability determination, the ALJ is “responsible for developing [the claimant's] complete medical history, including arranging for a consultative examination(s) if necessary, and making every reasonable effort to help [the claimant] get medical reports from [the claimant's] own medical sources.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545 (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1512(d) through (f)). Although the RFC determination is an issue reserved for the Commissioner, “an ALJ is not qualified to assess a claimant's RFC on the basis of bare medical findings, and as a result an ALJ's determination of RFC without a medical ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.