United States District Court, W.D. New York
DECISION AND ORDER
MICHAEL A. TELESCA, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
by counsel, Scott Burgard (“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(“Defendant” or “the
Commissioner”) denying his application for disability
insurance benefits (“DIB”).
January 3, 2012, Plaintiff, then forty-nine years-old, filed
for DIB, alleging disability beginning July 15, 2011, when a
motorcycle struck him as he walked, resulting in muscle,
ligament and fascia disorders; anxiety-related disorder
(functional nonpsychotic); head trauma; depression; a chronic
anterior cruciate ligament (“ACL”) tear in his
knee; vision problems in his left eye; broken teeth; and leg,
hip, knee and foot pain. (T. 40-42, 46-47, 50, 63, 125-128,
143). Plaintiff's application was denied on
June 26, 2012 (T. 67-74), and he timely requested a hearing
before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). ALJ
Curtis Axelsen held a hearing on August 1, 2013 (T. 33-56),
and, on December 2, 2013, issued a decision in which he found
Plaintiff was not disabled as defined in the Act. (T. 14-32).
On February 12, 2015, the Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review, leaving the ALJ's
decision as the final agency decision. (T. 1-6). This action
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. The Court assumes the
parties' familiarity with the facts of this case as set
forth in the record and will not repeat them except as
necessary. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's
motion is denied, and Defendant's motion is granted.
The ALJ's Decision
the ALJ found that Plaintiff met the insured status
requirements of the Act through June 30, 2015. (T. 19). 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 July 15,
2011, the alleged onset date. (Id.). At step two,
the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the severe impairments of
meniscal and ACL tears of the left knee, Lisfranc injury to
the left foot, and dysthymic disorder. (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.
proceeding to step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff
retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”)
to perform the full range of sedentary work, as defined in 20
C.F.R. § 404.1567(a), during the period from July 15,
2011 (the day of the motorcycle accident) through November
14, 2012 (two-months status post-arthroscopic surgery on his
left knee), except he was limited to two- and three-step
tasks with occasional contact with the public and
supervisors. (T. 21-26). The ALJ found that medical
improvement occurred as of November 14, 2012, see 20
C.F.R. § 404.1594(b)(1). As of that date, the ALJ found,
Plaintiff had the RFC to perform the full range of light
work, as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b), except he
is limited to performing two- and three-step tasks with
occasional contact with the public and supervisors.
(Id.). At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff
was unable to perform any past relevant work. (T. 26). At
step five, the ALJ found, without consulting a vocational
expert (“VE”), that considering Plaintiff's
age, education, work experience, and RFC, jobs exist in
significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff
can perform. (Id.). At this step, the ALJ also found
that because Plaintiff “was limited to sedentary work
from June 15, 2012[, the day he turned fifty-years-old and
was therefore closely approaching advanced age, ] through
November 14, 2012, classifying him as disabled by the
Medical-Vocational Rules, ” thereafter, “his
condition improved[, ] and he was no longer disabled as of
November 14, 2012.” (T. 26). Thus, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff was not disabled. (T. 27).
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 erred in failing to
incorporate his own findings into his RFC assessment; (2)
based on those findings, testimony of a VE was required; and
(3) the ALJ erred in finding that medical improvement