United States District Court, W.D. New York
DECISION AND ORDER
G. LARIMER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
appeals from a denial of disability benefits by the
Commissioner of Social Security (“the
Commissioner”). The action is one brought pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to review the Commissioner's
September 8, 2011, plaintiff filed applications for a period
of disability and disability insurance benefits under Title
II of the Social Security Act. Plaintiff alleged an inability
to work since April 8, 2008. (Dkt. #8-2 at 9). Her application
was initially denied. Plaintiff requested a hearing, which
was held April 4, 2014 via videoconference before
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) David J. Begley.
The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on August 7, 2014,
concluding that plaintiff was not disabled under the Social
Security Act. That decision became the final decision of the
Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied review on
November 2, 2015 (Dkt. #8-1 at 1-3). Plaintiff now appeals.
plaintiff has moved pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 12(c) for
judgment vacating the ALJ's decision and remanding the
matter for further proceedings, and the Commissioner has
cross moved for judgment dismissing the complaint. For the
reasons set forth below, the plaintiff's motion (Dkt.
#10) is granted, the Commissioner's cross motion (Dkt.
#14) is denied, and the matter is remanded for further
proceeds though a five-step evaluation in determining whether
a claimant is disabled within the meaning of the Social
Security Act. See Bowen v. City of New York, 476
U.S. 467, 470-71 (1986). At step one, the ALJ determines
whether the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful work
activity. See 20 CFR §404.1520(b). If so, the claimant
is not disabled. If not, then the ALJ continues to step two,
and determines whether the claimant has an impairment, or
combination of impairments, that is “severe, ”
e.g., that imposes significant restrictions on the
claimant's ability to perform basic work activities. 20
CFR §404.1520(c). If not, the analysis concludes with a
finding of “not disabled.” If so, the ALJ
proceeds to step three.
three, the ALJ examines whether the claimant's impairment
meets or equals the criteria of a listed impairment in
Appendix 1 of Subpart P of Regulation No. 4. If the
impairment meets or medically equals the criteria of a
listing and meets the durational requirement (20 CFR
§404.1509), the claimant is disabled. If not, the
ALJ's analysis proceeds to step four, and the ALJ
determines the claimant's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”), which is the ability to perform physical
or mental work activities on a sustained basis,
notwithstanding limitations for the collective impairments.
See 20 CFR §404.1520(e), (f).
then turns to whether the claimant's RFC permits
performance of the requirements of the claimant's past
relevant work. If so, the claimant is not disabled. If not,
analysis proceeds to the fifth and final step, wherein the
burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that the claimant
is not disabled, by presenting evidence demonstrating that
the claimant “retains a residual functional capacity to
perform alternative substantial gainful work which exists in
the national economy” in light of his age, education,
and work experience. See Rosa v. Callahan, 168 F.3d
72, 77 (2d Cir.1999). See 20 CFR §404.1560(c).
Commissioner's decision that plaintiff is not disabled
must be affirmed if it is supported by substantial evidence,
and if the ALJ has applied the correct legal standards.
See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Machadio v.
Apfel, 276 F.3d 103, 108 (2d Cir.2002). Substantial
evidence is defined as “more than a mere scintilla. It
means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971).
“The Court carefully 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.'” Tejada v.
Apfel, 167 F.3d 770, 774 (2d Cir. 1998) (quoting
Quinones v. Chater, 117 F.3d 29, 33 (2d Cir.1997)).
Still, “it is not the function of a reviewing court to
decide de novo whether a claimant was disabled.”
Melville v. Apfel, 198 F.3d 45, 52 (2d Cir.1999).
“Where the Commissioner's decision rests on
adequate findings supported by evidence having rational
probative force, [this Court] will not substitute [its]
judgment for that of the Commissioner.” Veino v.
Barnhart, 312 F.3d 578, 586 (2d Cir.2002).
same level of deference is not owed to the Commissioner's
conclusions of law. See Townley v. Heckler, 748 F.2d
109, 112 (2d Cir.1984). This Court must independently
determine if the Commissioner's decision applied the
correct legal standards in determining that the plaintiff was
not disabled. “Failure to apply the correct legal
standards is grounds for reversal.” Townley,
748 F.2d at 112. Therefore, this Court first examines the
legal standards applied, and then, if the standards were
correctly applied, considers the substantiality of the
evidence. Johnson v. Bowen, 817 F.2d 983, 985 (2d
Cir.1987). See also Schaal v. Apfel, 134 F.3d 496,
504 (2d Cir.1998).
treatment records reflect a history of complaints of back
pain, neck pain, right shoulder pain, right hand weakness,
obesity and anxiety. The ALJ determined that the plaintiff
was capable of performing light work, with the following
limitations: no more than occasional pushing and pulling with
the right upper extremity, no climbing of ladders, ropes or
scaffolds, no crawling, no more than occasional climbing of
ramps or stairs, and no overhead reaching with the right
upper extremity. Plaintiff can frequently balance, stoop,
kneel or crouch. She must avoid concentrated exposure to
extreme temperatures, humidity, vibrations, respiratory
irritants and poor ventilation, slippery and uneven surfaces,
hazardous machinery and unprotected heights. She is also
limited to work involving simple, routine and repetitive
tasks, with only simple, work-related decisions and few, if
any, workplace changes. She can only perform occupations with
no more than occasional interaction with coworkers,
supervisors and the general public. (Dkt. #8-2 at 13-14).
When presented with this RFC, vocational expert Diane Haller
testified that plaintiff could perform the positions of mail
sorter, garment sorter, and linen sorter/grader. (Dkt. #8-2
contends, among other things, that the ALJ failed to properly
weigh and evaluate medical opinions from examining physician
Dr. Richard DellaPorta, and failed - erroneously and without
any explanation - to incorporate portions of the opinion of
treating osteopathic physician Dr. Matthew Grier with
plaintiff's RFC, even while claiming to have given it
DellaPorta examined plaintiff and rendered opinions as to her
capacity for work on three separate occasions - in January
2005, December 2007 and May 2008. Although the ALJ made brief
reference to Dr. DellaPorta's May 22, 2008 opinion and
implicitly declined to credit portions of it (e.g., no
repetitive motion of the neck, no lifting more than 15 pounds
of above shoulder level) by omitting them from his RFC
findings, he did not specify the weight it was given, or
explain why parts of it were apparently rejected.
Grier, a supervising physician at the New York Physical
Medicine Center Center who treated plaintiff as well as
supervised other medical providers who treated her, provided
an opinion as to her RFC. (Dkt. #8-9 at 1029-34). The ALJ
stated that he gave Dr. Grier's opinion
“significant weight, ” but provided no
explanation as to why his RFC did not incorporate that
portion of Dr. Grier's opinion that stated that plaintiff
would suffer from concentration deficits due to pain, ...