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Byrne v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. New York

January 5, 2018

JOSEPH BYRNE, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          Christopher James Bowes Attorney for the Plaintiff, By: Christopher J. Bowes, Esq., Of Counsel.

          United States Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York Attorneys for the Defendant, By: Dara A. Olds, Assistant United States Attorney.



         On June 15, 2016, the plaintiff, Joseph Byrne (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.

         Presently 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 denied in its entirety, and the Defendant's motion is granted in its entirety.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On October 18, 2013, the Plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits under the Act, alleging that he has been disabled since July 27, 2009. The Plaintiff claims that he is disabled because of hip, knee, shoulder and back injuries, as well as sinusitis and gastroesophageal reflux disease related to time spent at the World Trade Center in 2001.

         His claim was denied on December 11, 2013, and he requested a hearing. The Plaintiff appeared with counsel before Administrative Law Judge Patrick Kilgannon (the “ALJ”) on May 12, 2015. On August 28, 2015, the ALJ issued a written decision in which he found that the Plaintiff was not entitled to disability benefits under the Act.

         The Plaintiff sought a review by the Appeals Council, which denied his request on April 12, 2016. With his request for review, the Plaintiff included a December 30, 2015 letter from Andrew Pasternack, a vocational expert. The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner upon the Appeals Council's denial of the Plaintiff's request for review.

         On June 15, 2016, the Plaintiff filed the instant action. The parties submitted the matter as fully briefed to the Court on March 29, 2017.

         For 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.”


         A. The Standard For Benefits Under The Act

         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).

         In 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 Commissioner 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).

         Under the five-step sequential evaluation process, the decision-maker decides:

(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).

         B. The ...

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