Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Butts v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, N.D. New York

January 11, 2018

GARY R. BUTTS, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          LAW OFFICES OF STEVEN R. DOLSON STEVEN R. DOLSON, ESQ. Counsel for Plaintiff Attorneys for plaintiff

          U.S. SOCIAL SECURITY ADMIN. PRASHANT TAMASKAR, ESQ. OFFICE OF REG'L GEN. COUNSEL - REGION II Counsel for Defendan Attorneys for defendant

          MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

          CHRISTIAN F. HUMMEL United States Magistrate Judge

         Currently before the Court, in this Social Security action filed by Gary Butts (“Plaintiff”) against the Commissioner of Social Security (“Defendant” or “the Commissioner”) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), are Plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings and Defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings. (Dkt. Nos. 14 and 18.) For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings is granted, and Defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings is denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Facts

         Plaintiff was born in 1972, making him forty years old at the alleged onset date and forty-three years old at the date of the ALJ's decision. T. 36.[1] Plaintiff reported obtaining a General Education Diploma and that he attended vocational school for small engine repairs. Plaintiff has past work as a tractor-trailer driver. Id. Generally, Plaintiff alleges disability due to thoracic back pain, bulging discs in his spine, diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol, depression, and his left leg being shorter than the right.

         B. Procedural History

         Plaintiff applied for Disability Insurance Benefits on October 11, 2013, alleging disability beginning January 17, 2013. Plaintiff's application was initially denied on December 16, 2013, after which he timely requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). T. 96-99, 104. Plaintiff appeared at a hearing before ALJ Laura Michalec Olszewski on May 22, 2015. Id. at 30-80. On June 4, 2015, the ALJ issued a written decision finding Plaintiff was not disabled under the Social Security Act. Id. at 10-29. On June 3, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Id. at 1-4.

         C. The ALJ's Decision

         Generally, in her decision, the ALJ made the following seven findings of fact and conclusions of law. T. 15-23. First, the ALJ found that Plaintiff meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2018.[2] Id. at 15. Second, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 17, 2013, the alleged onset date. Id. Third, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's alleged impairments including degenerative disc disease (“DDD”) of the thoracic spine, status post left ankle fusion, and obesity are severe impairments, while Type I diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and depression are not severe. Id. at 15. Fourth, the ALJ found that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, App. 1 (the “Listings”). Id. Specifically, the ALJ considered Listings 1.02 (major dysfunction of a joint), 1.04 (disorders of the spine), and 12.00 (adult mental disorders). Id. Fifth, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to

lift/carry ten pounds occasionally; sit for six hours in an eight-hour workday; stand for two hours in an eight-hour workday; and walk for two hours in an eight-hour workday. The claimant may sit or stand at his option, meaning he needs the freedom to alternate from sitting to standing as much or as little as he deems necessary. The change from one position to the other does not interrupt the claimant's ability to remain on task. He can occasionally climb ramps and stairs, but he should never climb ladders or scaffolds, and he should not balance. The claimant can occasionally stoop, twist, push, pull and reach overhead, and he can frequently reach in all other directions. Finally, he can frequently handle, finger and feel, although he should never kneel, crouch or crawl.

Id. at 18. Sixth, the ALJ found that Plaintiff is unable to perform any past relevant work. Id. at 21. Lastly, the ALJ found that there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform including order clerk (food and beverage), document preparer, and charge account clerk. Id. at 21-22. The ALJ therefore concluded that Plaintiff is not disabled.

         D. The Parties' Briefings on Their Cross-Motions

         1. Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings

          Generally, Plaintiff makes four arguments in support of his motion for judgment on the pleadings. Dkt. No. 14, at 4-16 (Pl.'s Mem. of Law). First, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ committed reversible error by failing to apply the treating physician rule. Id. at 4-9. Specifically, Plaintiff argues that the opinion of Plaintiff's treating physician, Jennifer Wiley, M.D., should be afforded controlling weight for three reasons: (1) Dr. Wiley's opinion is well-supported by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques including Plaintiff's treatment for thoracic spine, left leg, and ankle impairments, two MRIs of the thoracic spine, and an X-ray of the left ankle; (2) Dr. Wiley's opinion is consistent with other substantial evidence in the record including Dr. Wiley's own treatment notes and the findings of consultative examiner Tanya Perkins-Mwantuali, M.D.; and (3) Dr. Wiley is in the best position to have personal knowledge of Plaintiff's limitations as his treating physician. Id. at 5-7. Plaintiff also argues that the ALJ did not provide good reasons for assigning less than controlling weight to Dr. Wiley's opinion, failed to properly assess the treatment relationship between Dr. Wiley and Plaintiff, and failed to recontact Dr. Wiley for clarification regarding any ambiguity in her opinion. Id. at 7-8. Plaintiff also argues that even if Dr. Wiley's opinion is not entitled to controlling weight, the ALJ failed to specifically and appropriately address the requisite factors in considering Dr. Wiley's opinion. Id. at 8.

         Second, Plaintiff argues that the Appeals Council failed to consider new and material evidence provided by Plaintiff's treating physician. Pl.'s Mem. of Law at 9-11. Specifically, Plaintiff argues that a June 17, 2015, opinion from Dr. Wiley is new because it did not exist in the file at the time the ALJ issued her decision on June 4, 2015. Id. at 10. Plaintiff argues that the opinion is both material and probative because it is relevant to Plaintiff's conditions during the time period for which benefits were denied. Id. Plaintiff notes that Dr. Wiley's opinion states that Plaintiff is 100 percent disabled based on impairments diagnosed as of his alleged onset date and argues that the opinion establishes that these impairments and resulting limitations existed through the date of the ALJ's decision. Id. Plaintiff also argues that, although this opinion touches on the ultimate issue of disability, which is reserved to the Commissioner, it serves as additional supporting evidence that the Commissioner may not ignore.[3] Id.

         Third, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ committed reversible error by failing to assess his credibility properly. Pl.'s Mem. of Law at 11-15. Specifically, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to adequately discuss the numerous factors outlined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1529(c)(3) when making her credibility determination. Id. at 13. Plaintiff argues that the ALJ improperly discounted his credibility based on his conservative treatment and daily activities. Id. at 13-14. Plaintiff also argues that the ALJ improperly concluded that he is less than credible because he experienced significant benefit from a right thoracic radiofrequency nerve ablation. Id. at 14. Plaintiff contends that the ALJ ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.