United States District Court, W.D. New York
DECISION AND ORDER
MICHAEL A. TELESCA, United States District Judge
by counsel, Janet Besseghini (“Plaintiff”)
instituted this action pursuant to Title II of the Social
Security Act (“the Act”), seeking review of the
final decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security
(“the Commissioner”) denying her application for
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). The Court
has jurisdiction over the matter pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g), 1383(c).
January 19, 2012, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB
alleging disability beginning December 21, 2002, but she
subsequently amended her onset date to January 1, 2010.
(T.39, 91-92). The claim was denied initially on March
12, 2012. (T.56-63). Plaintiff requested a hearing on March
20, 2011, which was conducted by Administrative Law Judge
Grenville W. Harrop, Jr. (“the ALJ”) on April 4,
2013. (T.34-51). The ALJ issued a decision denying
Plaintiff's claim on May 21, 2013. (T.18-29). The ALJ
found that, notwithstanding Plaintiff's multi-level
lumbar disc herniations with spinal stenosis and
radiculopathy, she retained the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform the full range of light work,
and could perform her past relevant work as a research
assistant in a university library. (T.25, 28). On April 17,
2015, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for
review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of
the Commissioner. (T.1-6). Plaintiff then commenced this
and Defendant have cross-moved for judgment on the pleadings
pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure. The Court will discuss the record evidence further
below, as necessary to the resolution of the parties'
contentions. For the reasons set forth herein, the
Commissioner's decision is affirmed.
RFC Unsupported by Substantial Evidence (Plaintiff's
noted above, the ALJ assessed Plaintiff as having the RFC to
perform the full range of light work. The Regulations provide
that jobs at the light exertional level involve lifting no
more than 20 pounds at a time with frequent lifting or
carrying of objects weighing up to 10 pounds. See 20
C.F.R. § 404.1567(b). “Since frequent lifting or
carrying requires being on one's feet up to two-thirds of
a workday, the full range of light work requires standing or
walking, off and on, for a total of approximately 6 hours of
an 8-hour workday.” Security Ruling (“SSR”)
83-10, 1983 WL 31251, at *5 (S.S.A. 1983).
arriving at his RFC finding, the ALJ assigned the
“greatest weight” to the opinion of State agency
medical consultant Dr. José Ruiz. Dr. Ruiz
completed a Physical Residual Functional Capacity Assessment
on May 22, 2012. (T.257-66). Based upon his review of the
record, Dr. Ruiz opined that Plaintiff could occasionally
lift and carry up to 20 pounds; frequently lift 10 pounds;
sit about 6 hours; stand about 6 hours; occasionally climb
ramps and stairs; occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, and
crawl; frequently balance; but could never climb ladders,
ropes, or scaffolds. (T.258-59). Dr. Ruiz further stated that
Plaintiff should avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold
and hazards. (T.261). With regard to Plaintiff's pain
level, Dr. Ruiz noted that it appeared to be under
“fairly good” control and allowed her reasonably
good functionality. (T.262). The ALJ noted that Dr.
Ruiz's report was the only medical opinion in the record
and was “consistent with the remainder of the record as
a whole.” Plaintiff faults the ALJ for not specifically
including the limits articulated by Dr. Ruiz with regard to
climbing ramps, stairs, ladders, ropes, and scaffolds;
stooping; kneeling; crouching; and crawling. Generally
speaking, however, the ALJ is not required to incorporate
every limitation assessed by a medical source into the RFC.
See Miles v. Harris, 645 F.2d 122, 124 (2d Cir.
1981) (“Notwithstanding the apparent inconsistency
between the reports of Dr. Delahanty and that of Dr. Elstein,
we are unwilling to require an ALJ explicitly to reconcile
every conflicting shred of medical testimony. . . .”);
Pellam v. Astrue, 508 F. App'x 87, 89-90 (2d
Cir. 2013) (unpublished opn.) (“There is no requirement
that the agency accept the opinion of a consultative examiner
concerning a claimant's limitations, and substantial
evidence supported the ALJ's decision not to adopt many
of [the doctor]'s conclusions.”).
the limitations omitted by the ALJ are not, in fact,
inconsistent with the RFC for a full range of light work. For
instance, SSR 85-15, 1985 WL 56857 (S.S.A. 1985), observes
that “[w]here a person has some limitation in climbing
and balancingand it is the only limitation, it would not
ordinarily have a significant impact on the broad world of
work.” Id. at *6. It is true that certain
occupations, may be ruled out; e.g., the light occupation of
construction painter, which requires climbing ladders and
scaffolding, ” id., but that does not amount
to a significant erosion of the occupational base for light
work. With regard to the restriction imposed by Dr. Ruiz to
only “occasional” stooping, kneeling, crouching,
and crawling, SSR 85-15 notes that “[i]f a person can
stoop occasionally (from very little up to one-third of the
time) in order to lift objects, the sedentary and light
occupational base is virtually intact.” SSR 85-15, 1985
WL 56857, at *7. Therefore, the ALJ's failure to
specifically mention these limitations did not have any
effect on the ultimate RFC determination.
also argues that the ALJ failed to discuss the December 30,
2004 determination by New York State and Local Employees'
Retirement Systems that she was “permanently
incapacitated” from the performance of the duties of
“Library Clerk 2.” (T.102). As the Commissioner
notes, this document predates the alleged disability onset
date by 6 years. Moreover, “[a] decision by any
nongovernmental agency or any other governmental agency about
whether [claimants] are disabled or blind is based on its
rules and is not [the Commissioner's] decision about
whether [claimants] are disabled or blind.” 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1504. This letter from the State therefore was of
very limited probative value.
argues that there was “no basis for the ALJ to have
concluded that Plaintiff could perform light work, in light
of her multilevel lumbar spine disc herniations with spinal
stenosis and radiculopathy.” (Plaintiff's
Memorandum of Law (“Pl's Mem.”) (Dkt #5-1) at
13). Plaintiff then goes on to cite all of the diagnostic
testing results, such as the MRIs and CT scans, both
preceding her alleged disability onset date and post-dating
the expiration of her insured status. Plaintiff claims that
the ALJ improperly interpreted these bare medical findings.
See, e.g., Rosa v. Callahan, 168
F.3d 72, 79 (2d Cir. 1999) (determining that the ALJ
“as a lay person ” was “simply not in a
position” to interpret the medical evidence). However,
what Plaintiff overlooks is that the ALJ's RFC assessment
is not inconsistent with the report of State agency review
consultant Dr. Ruiz, which the ALJ assigned great weight.
Therefore, the Court finds no evidence that the ALJ exceeded
his professional bounds by “playing doctor.”
Erroneous Credibility Assessment ...