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Walker v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. New York

December 19, 2017

BRIAN WALKER, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          HON. MICHAEL A. TELESCA United States District Judge

         I. Introduction

         Proceeding pro se, plaintiff Brian Walker (“plaintiff”) brings this action pursuant to Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (the “Act”), seeking review of the final decision of defendant the Acting Commissioner of Social Security (the “Commissioner” or “defendant”) denying his applications for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income (“SSI”). The Court has jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Presently before the Court is the Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons discussed below, the Commissioner's motion is granted.

         II. Procedural History

         Plaintiff protectively filed applications for DIB and SSI on April 18, 2013, both of which were initially denied. Administrative Transcript (“T.”) 60-67, 158-65. At plaintiff's request, a hearing was held before administrative law judge (“ALJ”) Michael W. Devlin on February 24, 2015, where plaintiff appeared with non-attorney representative David Penrose. T. 46-92. On July 18, 2015, ALJ Devlin issued a decision in which he found that plaintiff was not disabled as defined in the act. T. 6-19. On January 11, 2017, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review, rendering the ALJ's determination the Commissioner's final decision. T. 1-3. This action followed.

         III. The ALJ's Decision

         Initially, the ALJ determined that plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through December 31, 2013. T. 11. At step one of the five-step sequential evaluation, see 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920, the ALJ determined that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity from July 1, 2011, the alleged onset date. Id. At step two, the ALJ found that plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments of diabetes mellitus type II, diabetic neuropathy, and obesity. Id. The ALJ further found that plaintiff had the non-severe impairments of blurry vision and status post cholecystectomy. T. 12. 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 any listed impairment. Id.

         Before proceeding to step four, the ALJ determined that plaintiff retained the RFC to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a), with the following additional limitations: can occasionally lift and/or carry ten pounds; can frequently lift and/or carry less than ten pounds; can stand and/or walk for up to two hours in an eight hour workday; can sit for about six hours in an eight hour workday; requires use of an assistive device (e.g. a cane) to ambulate to and from the workstation; can occasionally push and/or pull ten pounds; can frequently finger bilaterally; can occasionally climb ramps and/or stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl; and can never climb ladders/ropes/scaffolds. T. 13.

         At step four, the ALJ found that plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work. T. 17. At step five, the ALJ concluded that, considering plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that plaintiff could perform. T. 18. Accordingly, the ALJ found plaintiff not disabled. Id.

         IV. Discussion

         A 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) (internal quotation omitted). “Where the Commissioner's decision rests on adequate findings supported by evidence having rational probative force, [the district court] will not substitute [its] judgment for that of the Commissioner.” Veino v. Barnhart, 312 F.3d 578, 586 (2d Cir. 2002). This deferential standard is not applied to the Commissioner's application of the law, and the district court must independently determine whether the Commissioner's decision applied the correct legal standards in determining that the claimant was not disabled. Townley v. Heckler, 748 F.2d 109, 112 (2d Cir. 1984).

         In this case, the Commissioner contends that her final decision was well-supported by substantial evidence and free from legal error. Having reviewed the record, and for the reasons discussed below, the Court agrees.

         A. The ALJ's Findings Are Supported by Substantial Evidence

         The Court has considered the findings made by the ALJ at each step of the five-step sequential evaluation. The ALJ's determination at step one was favorable to ...

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