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Murray v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, N.D. New York

December 15, 2017

SHAWN MURRAY, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          LEGAL AID SOCIETY OF NEW YORK-ALBANY Counsel for Plaintiff PAUL A. TIGHE, ESQ.

          SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION OFFICE OF GENERAL COUNSEL-REGION II Counsel for Defendant KRISTINA D. COHN, ESQ.

          DECISION AND ORDER

          GLENN T. SUDDABY, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE..

         Currently before the Court, in this action filed by Shawn Murray (“Plaintiff”) against the Commissioner of Social Security (“Defendant” or “Commissioner”) seeking Social Security benefits pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), are (1) the Report-Recommendation of United States Magistrate Judge William B. Mitchell Carter recommending that the Commissioner's decision be affirmed and Plaintiff's Complaint be dismissed, and (2) Plaintiff's Objections to the Report-Recommendation. (Dkt. Nos. 17, 18.) For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's Objections are rejected, and the Report-Recommendation is accepted and adopted in its entirety.

         I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND

         A. Relevant Procedural History

         On September 19, 2012, Plaintiff filed an application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) alleging a disability onset date of September 19, 2012. (See Administrative Transcript [“T.”] at T. 282). Plaintiff's application was initially denied by the Social Security Administration, after which he timely requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). On July 8, 2014, and February 5, 2015, hearings were held before ALJ Michelle Marcus. (T. at 50-62, 63-92.) On May 6, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled. (T. at 7-26.) On December 13, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (T. at 1-6.) On January 27, 2017, Plaintiff commenced this action in federal court. (Dkt. No. 1.)

         Generally, in her decision, the ALJ made the following five findings of fact and conclusions of law: (1) Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his amended alleged onset date of September 29, 2014; (2) Plaintiff has the severe impairments of degenerative disc disease of the lumber spine, cervicalgia, status post left hip surgery, and an impairment in the left shoulder suggestive of a torn rotator cuff or neurological deficit; (3) Plaintiff does not have an impairment that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments located in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1; (4) Plaintiff has the residual functioning capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work; and (5) while Plaintiff has no past relevant work, there are jobs which exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform. (T. at 19-20.)

         B. Parties' Arguments on Their Motions for Judgment on the Pleadings

         1. Plaintiff's Arguments

         Generally, in Plaintiff's brief in support of his motion for judgment on the pleadings, Plaintiff asserts the following three arguments: (1) that the ALJ's RFC determination was not supported by substantial evidence because (a) the ALJ improperly found Plaintiff capable of performing light work instead of only sedentary work, (b) the ALJ improperly afforded the opinion of treating orthopedist Dr. Ralph Quade, M.D., “some weight” instead of controlling weight, and (c) the ALJ improperly afforded the opinion of consultative orthopedic examiner Dr. Joseph Prezio, M.D., “some weight” instead of “great weight, ” (d) the ALJ improperly afforded the opinion of independent medical examiner Dr. Charles Plotz, M.D., “great weight” instead of no weight, and (e) the ALJ improperly afforded the opinion of Occupational Therapist (“OT”) Brenda Breen “some weight”; (2) that the ALJ's credibility determination was not supported by substantial evidence because it failed to account for Plaintiff's testimony concerning difficulties with certain activities of daily living; (3) that the ALJ's Step Five determination was not supported by substantial evidence because (a) she based her Step Five analysis on the application date of September 19, 2012, rather than the amended onset date of September 29, 2014, and (b) as discussed above in Plaintiff's first argument, the ALJ based her Step Five analysis on an erroneous RFC. (Dkt. No. 14 at Part II.C.)

         2. Defendant's Arguments

         Generally, in Defendant's brief in support of her motions for judgment on the pleadings, she asserts the following three arguments: (1) in determining Plaintiff's RFC, the ALJ properly evaluated the medical evidence of record, including the opinions of Dr. Quade, Dr. Pezio, Dr. Plotz and OT Breen (based, in part, on inconsistencies in the findings of Drs. Quade and Prezio and as compared to other record evidence); (2) that the ALJ's credibility determination was supported by substantial evidence because the ALJ properly considered Plaintiff's daily activities, lack of compliance with physical therapy, and attempts to find work, together with the overall record evidence; and (3) that the ALJ's Step Five finding was supported by substantial evidence because (a) the ALJ's use of Plaintiff's original alleged onset date was harmless in that use of the amended alleged onset date would have resulted in the same outcome on remand (given that Plaintiff still would have been a “younger individual” had the amended alleged onset date been used), and (b) despite the fact that the amended onset date was six months away from Plaintiff's fiftieth birthday, his case did not qualify as a “borderline” situation, which is reserved for cases when the plaintiff's age is within a “few days or a few months of a higher age category” and an application of the higher age category would result in a decision of “disabled” (which is not the case here). (Dkt. No. 15 at “Argument.”)

         C. Magistrate Judge Carter's ...


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