United States District Court, W.D. New York
DECISION AND ORDER
G. LARIMER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Edwin Martinez (“plaintiff”) appeals from a
denial of disability benefits by the Commissioner of Social
Security (“the Commissioner”). The action is
brought under the Social Security Act § 216(i) and
223(d) seeking to review the Commissioner's final
December 14, 2012, plaintiff filed an application for
disability insurance benefits which alleged disability
beginning on January 16, 2012. His application was initially
denied on February 14, 2013. (Dkt. #6 at 12). Plaintiff
timely requested a hearing, which was held on June 17, 2014
before the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”)
Gregory M. Hamel. The ALJ rendered a decision concluding that
plaintiff, a 48-year-old man with a General Education
Development (GED) degree, was not disabled under the Social
Security Act. (Dkt. #6 at 12-25). That decision became the
final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council
denied review on December 3, 2015. (Dkt. #6 at 1-3).
moves for judgment on the pleadings on the grounds that the
ALJ's decision was the product of legal error, and was
not supported by substantial evidence. (Dkt. #9). The
Commissioner opposes the plaintiff's motion, and
cross-moves for judgment on the pleadings, in accordance with
42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (Dkt. #11).
The ALJ's Evaluation
proceeds though a five-step evaluation in determining whether
a claimant is disabled within the meaning of the Social
Security Act. See Bowen v. City of New
York, 476 U.S. 467, 470-71, 106 S.Ct. 2022, 90 L.Ed.2d
462 (1986). At step one, the ALJ determines whether the
claimant is engaged in substantial gainful work activity. See
20 CFR § 404.1520(b). If so, the claimant is not
disabled. If not, then the ALJ continues to step two, and
determines whether the claimant has an impairment, or
combination of impairments, that is “severe, ”
e.g., that imposes significant restrictions on the
claimant's ability to perform basic work activities. 20
C.F.R. §404.1520(c). If not, the analysis concludes with
a finding of “not disabled.” If so, the ALJ
proceeds to step three.
three, the ALJ examines whether the claimant's impairment
meets or equals the criteria of a listed impairment in
Appendix 1 of Subpart P of Regulation No. 4. If the
impairment meets or medically equals the criteria of a
listing and meets the durational requirement (20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1509), the claimant is disabled. If not, the
ALJ's analysis proceeds to step four, and the ALJ
determines the claimant's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”), which is the ability to perform physical
or metal work activities on a sustained basis,
notwithstanding limitations for the collective impairments.
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e), (f).
then turns to whether the claimant's RFC permits him to
perform the requirements of his past relevant work. If so,
the claimant is not disabled. If not, analysis proceeds to
the fifth and final step, wherein the burden shifts to the
Commissioner to show that the claimant is not disabled, by
presenting evidence demonstrating that the claimant
“retains a residual functional capacity to perform
alternative substantial gainful work which exists in the
national economy” in light of his age, education, and
work experience. See Rosa v. Callahan, 168 F.3d 72,
77 (2d Cir.1999) (quoting Bapp v. Bowen, 802 F.2d
601, 604 (2d Cir.1986)). See also 20 CFR
Commissioner's decision that plaintiff is not disabled
must be affirmed if it is supported by substantial evidence,
and if the ALJ has applied the correct legal standards. See
42 U.S.C. §405(g); Machadio v. Apfel, 276 F.3d
103, 108 (2d Cir. 2002). Substantial evidence is defined as
“more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion” Richardson v. Perales,
402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971).
“The Court carefully considers the whole record,
examining evidence from both sides ‘because an analysis
of the substantiality of the evidence must also include that
which detracts from its weight.'” Tejada v.
Apfel, 167 F.3d 770, 774 (2d Cir. 1998) (quoting
Quinones v. Chater, 117 F.3d 29, 33 (2d Cir. 1997)).
Nonetheless, “it is not the function of a reviewing
court to decide de novo whether a claimant was
disabled.” Melville v. Apfel, 198 F.3d 45, 52
(2d Cir. 1999). “Where the Commissioner's decision
rests on adequate findings supported by evidence having
rational probative force, [this Court] will not substitute
[its] judgment for that of the Commissioner.” Veino
v. Barnhart, 312 F.3d 578, 586 (2d Cir. 2002).
same level of deference is not owed to the Commissioner's
conclusions of law. See Townley v. Heckler, 748 F.2d
109, 112 (2d Cir.1984). This Court must independently
determine whetehr the Commissioner's decision applied the
correct legal standards in determining that the plaintiff was
not disabled. “Failure to apply the correct legal
standards is grounds for reversal.” Townley,
748 F.2d at 112. Therefore, this Court first examines the
legal standards applied, and then, if the standards were
correctly applied, considers the substantiality of the
evidence. Johnson v. Bowen, 817 F.2d 983, 985 (2d
Cir. 1987). See also Schaal v. Apfel, 134
F.3d 496, 504 (2d Cir. 1998).
the ALJ determined that plaintiff: (1) had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since January 16, 2012, the
alleged onset date; (2) had severe impairments consisting of
lumbar disc disease, major depressive disorder, anxiety
disorder, bipolar disorder, attention-deficit disorder
(“ADD”), and attention-deficit hyperactivity
disorder (“ADHD”) (20 C.F.R. §404.1520(c));
(3) did not have impairment(s) that meet or medically equal
the severity of one of the listed impairments (Listing 12.04,
12.06, and 12.08); and (4) was capable of performing light
work. (Dkt. #6 at 17-19). See 20 C.F.R.
the ALJ found that plaintiff retains the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to occasionally climb ramps and
stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. (Dkt. #6 at
19). The plaintiff cannot, however, climb ladders, ropes, and
scaffolds. Id. Plaintiff is limited to routine and
repetitive tasks, and cannot perform tasks that are require
more than occasional contact or interactions with coworkers.
Id. However, the plaintiff has a normal gait, and he
has a full range of motion in his cervical spine, shoulders,
elbows, forearms, wrist, fingers, hips, knees, and ankles.
Id. at 22. In addition, the plaintiff does not need
assistive devices to help his normal gait. Id.
Furthermore, the plaintiff has the ability to maintain
attention and concentration for simple tasks, and he does not
have memory deficits. Id. at 24. Because the ALJ
concluded that these limitations do not substantially erode
the ability to perform light work such that the
Medical-Vocational Guidelines can be applied (a conclusion
that plaintiff does not challenge), he applied the Guidelines
to find the plaintiff “not disabled.”
The ALJ Did Not Rely On ...