United States District Court, W.D. New York
DECISION AND ORDER
MICHAEL A. TELESCA United States District Judge.
by counsel, Jebediah Charles Kenning
(“Plaintiff”) brings this action pursuant to
Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (“the
Act”), seeking review of the final decision of the
Acting Commissioner of Social Security
(“Defendant” or “the Commissioner”)
denying his applications for disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”). 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.
24, 2013, Plaintiff, a then-thirty-four year old former
driver, salesperson and market development manager, filed for
DIB and SSI, alleging disability beginning October 31, 2011
due to herniated and bulging discs in the lumbar spine,
degenerative disc disease in the lumbar spine, anxiety and
depression (T. 146-47, 234-35, 246, 254, 259). Plaintiff's
application was denied on September 16, 2013 (T. 150-53), and
he timely requested a hearing before an administrative law
judge (“ALJ”). ALJ Brian Kane held a hearing on
May 7, 2015 (T. 85-128). On June 18, 2015, the ALJ issued a
decision in which he found Plaintiff was not disabled as
defined in the Act (T. 45-56). On October 5, 2016, the
Appeals Council denied review leaving the ALJ's decision
as the final agency decision (T. 1-6). This action followed.
The Court assumes the parties' familiarity with the facts
of this case and will not repeat them here. The Court will
discuss the record further as necessary to the resolution of
the parties' contentions.
The ALJ's Decision
the ALJ found that Plaintiff met the insured status
requirements of the Act through June 30, 2012 (T.
At step one of the five-step sequential evaluation,
see 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520 and 416.920, the
ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since October 31, 2011 (Id.). At
step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the severe
impairment of degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine
(20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c))
(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. 52). Before proceeding to step four, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform sedentary work, as that term
is defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(a) and
416.967(a) (T. 25) with the following limitations: (1) lift
and carry up to 20 pounds; (2) sit for six hours; (3) stand
and walk a total of two hours; and (4) receive a break every
hour of five minutes or less (T. 52). At step four, the ALJ
found that Plaintiff was capable of performing past relevant
work as a merchandise manager, which does not require the
performance of work-related activities precluded by the
claimant's RFC. (T. 55). Accordingly, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff was not disabled from October 31, 2011 through the
date of his decision (T. 55).
Scope of Review
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.
makes the following arguments in support of his motion for
judgment on the pleadings: (1) the ALJ's RFC finding was
not supported by substantial evidence because the ALJ
rejected the only medical source statement as insufficiently
specific; and (2) the ALJ's RFC finding was not supported
by substantial evidence because the only medical source
opinion found that Plaintiff had mild to moderate limitations
with prolonged sitting, and, contrary to the medical source
statement, the ALJ found in the RFC that he could sit
continuously for six hours. For the reasons discussed below,
the Court finds that the ALJ's RFC finding was not
supported by substantial evidence because the ALJ rejected
the only medical source statement presented and, accordingly,
remand is required.
Absence of Medical Opinion
argues that the Court should remand his case to the ALJ
because the ALJ's RFC determination is not supported by
substantial evidence (Docket 11-3 at 12). Specifically,
Plaintiff contends that the ALJ discounted the only expert
medical opinion in the record concerning Plaintiff's
limitations, which resulted in an RFC based on bare medical
findings (Docket 11-3 at 12-15). The Commissioner contends
that the RFC was based on ...