United States District Court, E.D. New York
Stanton Guzman & Miller, LLP Attorneys for the Plaintiff,
By: Stacey R. Guzman, Esq., Of Counsel.
States Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New
York Attorneys for the Defendant, By: Edwin R. Cortes,
Assistant United States Attorney.
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION & ORDER
D. SPATT UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
6, 2016, the Plaintiff Archie Ellis Midgett, III (the
“Plaintiff” or the “Claimant”)
commenced this appeal pursuant to the Social Security Act, 42
U.S.C. § 405 et seq. (the “Act”),
challenging a final determination by the Defendant, Nancy A.
Berryhill, the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration (the “Defendant” or the
“Commissioner”), that he is ineligible to receive
Social Security disability insurance benefits.
before the Court are the parties' cross motions, pursuant
to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (“Fed. R. Civ.
P.” or “Rule”) 12(c) for a judgment on the
pleadings. For the reasons that follow, the Plaintiff's
motion is granted in part and denied in part, and the
Defendant's motion is granted in part and denied in part.
26, 2013, the Plaintiff applied for disability insurance
benefits under the Act, alleging that he had been disabled
since October 24, 2009. The Plaintiff claims that he is
disabled because of a motor vehicle accident which resulted
in back, neck, shoulder and knee injuries.
claim was denied on August 23, 2013, and he requested a
hearing. The Plaintiff appeared with counsel before
Administrative Law Judge April M. Wexler (the
“ALJ”) on November 17, 2014. On January 8, 2015,
the ALJ issued a written decision in which she found that the
Plaintiff was not entitled to disability benefits under the
Plaintiff sought a review by the Appeals Council, who denied
his request on April 4, 2016. The ALJ's decision became
the final decision of the Commissioner upon the Appeals
Council's denial of the Plaintiff's request for
6, 2016, the Plaintiff filed the instant action. The parties
submitted the matter as fully briefed to the Court on April
purposes of these motions, familiarity with the underlying
administrative record is presumed. The Court's discussion
of the evidence will be limited to the specific challenges
and responses presently raised by the Plaintiff and the
Defendant. In this regard, references to the record are
denoted as “R.”
The Standard For Benefits Under The Act
defines the term “disability” to mean an
“inability to engage in any substantial gainful
activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or
mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or
which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous
period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(1)(A). A person may only be disabled if his,
“impairments are of such severity that he is not only
unable to do his previous work[, ] but cannot, considering
his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other
kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national
economy.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A).
determining whether a claimant is disabled, the Commissioner
is required to apply the five-step sequential process
promulgated by the Social Security Administration, set forth
in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. Rosa v. Callahan, 168
F.3d 72, 77 (2d Cir. 1999). The Claimant bears the burden of
proving the first four steps, but then the burden shifts to
the Commission at the fifth step to prove that the Claimant
is capable of working. Kohler v. Astrue, 546 F.3d
260, 265 (2d Cir. 2008); Rosa, 168 F.3d at 77.
See also Perez v. Chater, 77 F.3d 41, 46 (2d Cir.
1996) (“If the claimant satisfies her burden of proving
the requirements in the first four steps, the burden then
shifts to the [Commissioner] to prove in the fifth step that
the claimant is capable of working.”). “If at any
step a finding of disability or non-disability can be made,
the [Social Security Administration] will not review the
claim further.” Barnhart v. Thomas, 540 U.S.
20, 24, 124 S.Ct. 376, 379, 157 L.Ed.2d 333 (2003).
the five-step sequential evaluation process, the
(1) whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial
gainful activity; (2) whether the claimant has a severe
impairment or combination of impairments; (3) whether the
impairment meets or equals the severity of the specified
impairments in the Listing of Impairments; (4) based on a
“residual functional capacity” assessment,
whether the claimant can perform any of his or her past
relevant work despite the impairment; and (5) whether there
are significant numbers of jobs in the national economy that
the claimant can perform given the claimant's residual
functional capacity, age, education, and work experience.
McIntyre v. Colvin, 758 F.3d 146, 150 (2d Cir.
2014); Pratts v. Chater, 94 F.3d 34, 37 (2d Cir.
1996); Berry v. Schweiker, 675 F.2d 464, 467 (2d
Cir. 1982) (per curiam); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520,
416.920. When conducting this analysis, the ALJ must consider
the objective medical facts, the diagnoses or medical
opinions based on these facts, the subjective evidence of
pain and disability, and the claimant's age, background,
education and work experience. Mongeur v. Heckler,
722 F.2d 1033, 1037 (2d Cir. 1983) (per curiam).
The Standard Of Review
review of the denial of disability benefits is narrow”
and “[t]he Court will set aside the Commissioner's
conclusions only if they are not supported by substantial
evidence in the record as a whole or are based on an
erroneous legal standard.” Koffsky v. Apfel,
26 F.Supp.2d 475, 478 (E.D.N.Y. 1998) (Spatt, J.) (citing
Bubnis v. Apfel, 150 F.3d 177, 179-81 (2d Cir.
1998)); accord Machadio v. Apfel, 276 F.3d 103, 108
(2d Cir. 2002) (citing Shaw v. Chater, 221 F.3d 126,
131 (2d Cir. 2000)); 42 U.S.C. § 504(g). See also
Alston v. Sullivan, 904 F.2d 122, 126 (2d Cir. 1990)
(“Where there is substantial evidence to support either
position, the determination is one to be made by the
factfinder.”). The ALJ is required to set forth those
crucial factors used to justify his or her findings with
sufficient particularity to allow the district court to make
a determination regarding the existence of substantial
evidence. Ferraris v. Heckler, 728 F.2d 582, 587 (2d
“the reviewing court does not decide the case de
novo.” Pereira v. Astrue, 279 F.R.D. 201,
205 (E.D.N.Y. 2010) (citing Halloran v. Barnhart,
362 F.3d 28, 31 (2d Cir. 2004)). Rather, “the findings
of the Commissioner as to any fact, if supported by
substantial evidence, are conclusive, ” id.
(citing 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)), and therefore, the relevant
question is not “whether there is substantial evidence
supporting the [claimant's] view”; instead, the
Court “must decide whether substantial evidence
supports the ALJ's decision.” Bonet v.
Colvin, 523 F. App'x 58, 59 (2d Cir. 2013) (summary
order) (emphasis in original). In this way, the
“substantial evidence” standard is “very
deferential” to the Commissioner, and allows courts to
reject the ALJ's findings “‘only if a
reasonable factfinder would have to conclude
otherwise.'” Brault v. Soc. Sec.
Admin., 683 F.3d 443, 448 (2d Cir. 2012) (per curiam)
(quoting Warren v. Shalala, 29 F.3d 1287, 1290 (8th
Cir. 1994) (emphasis in original)). This deferential standard
applies not only to factual determinations, but also to
“inferences and conclusions drawn from such
facts.” Pena v. Barnhart, No. 01-cv-502, 2002
WL 31487903, at *7 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 29, 2002) (citing
Levine v. Gardner, 360 F.2d 727, 730 (2d Cir.
evidence means ‘more than a mere scintilla. It means
such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.'” Burgess v.
Astrue, 537 F.3d 117, 127-28 (2d Cir. 2008) (quoting
Halloran, 362 F.3d at 31); accord Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 1427, 28
L.Ed.2d 842 (1971); Williams v. Bowen, 859 F.2d 255,
258 (2d Cir. 1988). “To determine on appeal whether an
ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence, a
reviewing court considers the whole record, examining the
evidence from both sides, because an analysis of the
substantiality of the evidence must also include that which
detracts from its weight.” Williams, 859 F.2d
at 258 (citing Universal Camera Corp. v. NLRB, 340
U.S. 474, 488, 71 S.Ct. 456, 464, 95 L.Ed. 456 (1951)).
ALJ's findings may properly rest on substantial evidence
even where he or she fails to “recite every piece of
evidence that contributed to the decision, so long as the
record ‘permits [the Court] to glean the rationale of
an ALJ's decision.'” Cichocki v.
Astrue, 729 F.3d 172, 178 n.3 (2d Cir. 2013) (summary
order) (quoting Mongeur, 722 F.2d at 1040). This
remains true “even if contrary evidence exists.”
Mackey v. Barnhart, 306 F.Supp.2d 337, 340 (E.D.N.Y.
2004) (citing DeChirico v. Callahan, 134 F.3d 1177,
1182 (2d Cir. 1998)).
Court is prohibited from substituting its own judgment for
that of the Commissioner, even if it might understandably
have reached a different result upon a de novo
review. See Rutherford v. Schweiker, 685 F.2d 60, 62
(2d Cir. 1982); Koffsky, 26 F.Supp. at 478 (quoting
Jones v. Sullivan, 949 F.2d 57, 59 (2d Cir. 1991)).
Application To The Facts Of This Case
Plaintiff asks this Court to remand the case back to the
Commissioner for the calculation of benefits or, in the
alternative, for further proceedings to remedy what the
Plaintiff believes was a deprivation of a full and fair ALJ
hearing. See Cruz v. Barnhart, 343 F.Supp.2d 218,
220 (S.D.N.Y. 2004) (stating that before a court analyzes the
merits of a Social Security case, “[t]he reviewing
court ‘must first be satisfied that the claimant has
had a full hearing under the regulations and in accordance