United States District Court, W.D. New York
DECISION AND ORDER
MICHAEL A. TELESCA, United States District Judge
Renee Doctor (“plaintiff”) brings this action
pursuant to Title XVI 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 her application for supplemental security income
(“SSI”). Presently 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. For the reasons set forth below, plaintiff's
motion is denied and defendant's motion is granted.
protectively filed an application for SSI alleging disability
beginning March 1, 2007. Administrative Transcript
(“T.”) 74, 117-22. Plaintiff's application
was initially denied, and she timely requested a hearing
before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), which
occurred on July 22, 2013, before ALJ David S. Lewandowski.
T. 3-54, 140-49. At the hearing, plaintiff's attorney
amended her alleged onset date to February 27, 2012. T. 34.
On October 17, 2013, ALJ Lewandowski issued a decision in
which he found plaintiff not disabled as defined in the Act.
T. 10-29. The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request
for review on March 26, 2015, rendering the ALJ's
determination the Commissioner's final decision. T. 1-3.
Plaintiff subsequently commenced the instant action.
The ALJ's Decision
one of the five-step sequential evaluation, see 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920, the ALJ found that
plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since February 27, 2012, the alleged onset date. T. 15. At
step two, the ALJ found that plaintiff had the severe
impairments of neck and back pain, abdominal pain, anxiety,
depression, panic disorder, and asthma. Id. At step
three, the ALJ found that plaintiff did not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled a listed impairment. Id. Before
proceeding to step four, the ALJ found that plaintiff
retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”)
to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §
416.967(b), with the following additional limitations: can
occasionally climb, push, and pull; must avoid pulmonary
irritants; is able to perform semi-skilled tasks; must have
“no or limited proximity to coworkers with occasional
interaction with others”; no fast-paced production
rate; and no multi-tasking. T. 17. At step four, the ALJ
found that plaintiff had no past relevant work. T. 23. At
step five, the ALJ found 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. 24. Accordingly, the ALJ found
that plaintiff was not disabled as defined in the Act. T. 25.
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.
plaintiff makes the following arguments in favor of her
motion for judgment on the pleadings: 1) the ALJ's
finding that plaintiff should have “no or limited
proximity to coworkers with occasional interaction with
others” was incomplete and impermissibly vague; 2) the
ALJ failed to properly set forth plaintiff's limitations
with respect to respiratory irritants; and 3) the ALJ
impermissibly selectively rejected portions of the opinion of
consultative physician Dr. Abrar Siddiqui without adequate
explanation. The Court finds these arguments without merit
for the reasons discussed below.
The ALJ Adequately Defined Plaintiff's Non-Exertional
The ALJ's Assessed Limitation of “No or Limited
Proximity to Coworkers” was Appropriate
in this case found that plaintiff should have “no or
limited proximity to coworkers with occasional interaction
with others.” T. 17. In support of this conclusion, the
ALJ explained that he had credited plaintiff's statement
to consultative examiner Dr. Gregory Fabiano that she
suffered from panic if she was around “too many
people.” T. 22.
self-reported symptoms provide the only record support for
the proposition that she is severely limited in her ability
to work in proximity to others. Dr. Fabiano opined that
plaintiff was fully capable of relating adequately with
others and that her psychiatric limitations were not
significant enough to interfere with her ability to function
of a daily basis. T. 230. State agency review physician Dr.
C. Butensky opined that plaintiff had only moderate
limitations in her ability to work in coordination with or
proximity to others. T. 251. Plaintiff's treating
psychiatrist Dr. Jarod Masci declined to assess