United States District Court, N.D. New York
Olinsky Law Group HOWARD D. OLINSKY, ESQ. EDWARD A. WICKLUND,
ESQ. Attorneys for Plaintiff
Security Administration JASON P. PECK, ESQ. Office of
Regional General Counsel, Special Assistant U.S. Attorney
Region II Attorneys for Defendant
MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER
CHRISTIAN F. HUMMEL U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Andrew Merton Williams brings this action pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking review of a decision by the
Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”)
denying his application for disability insurance benefits.
Dkt. No. 1 (“Compl.”). Plaintiff moves for a
finding of disability, and the Commissioner cross moves for a
judgment on the pleadings. Dkt. Nos. 15, 16. For the
following reasons, the determination of the Commissioner is
was born on December 15, 1971. T. 179. Plaintiff has a
“limited education, ” and completed tenth grade.
Id. at 201. Plaintiff's only full-time job in
the past fifteen years was as a food service maintenance
worker at McDonald's, where he engaged in tasks such as
cleaning cooling equipment, unloading trucks, and fixing
appliances. Id. at 76-77, 193, 201. At
McDonald's, plaintiff was on his feet for most of the
work shift. Id. at 77. He regularly lifted objects
weighing fifty pounds, and had to stop unloading trucks
because it bothered his neck. Id. Plaintiff ceased
employment at McDonald's at the alleged disability onset
date. Id. At the oral hearing, plaintiff testified
that he is 6'1'' tall and weighs 280 pounds.
Id. at 92. He lives with his wife and four children,
two of whom live there part-time. Id. at 76.
Plaintiff generally stays at home in his recliner, which he
described as his “best spot to sit.” Id.
at 81. He attempts to do simple chores, and his children help
him with the laundry. Id. at 84. Plaintiff can do
the dishes, but needs to move and change positions to keep
comfortable. Id. at 81. Plaintiff averages about ten
“bad days” a month, and spends a majority of his
days in his recliner or in bed. Id. at 83, 94. He is
able to care for his personal hygiene, and a higher toilet
and a shower stall were installed in his home to alleviate
pain in his knee. Id. at 84. Plaintiff is able to
drive with the help of a “pillow or a sweatshirt”
on the side of his left leg “so it will not rest on the
door.” Id. at 87.
November 19, 2013, plaintiff protectively filed a Title II
application for a period of disability and disability
insurance benefits. T. 179-89. Plaintiff alleged disability
beginning on August 14, 2013. Id. at 179.
Plaintiff's application was initially denied on January
2, 2014. Id. at 106-110. Plaintiff requested a
hearing, and a hearing was held on June 19, 2015 before
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Bruce S. Fein.
Id. at 71-97, 115-16. ALJ Fein determined that
plaintiff “ha[d] not been under a disability within the
meaning of the Social Security Act from August 14, 2013
through the date of this decision.” Id. at 53.
The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for
review, id. at 48, making the ALJ's findings the
final determination of the Commissioner. Id. at
6-13. Plaintiff commenced this action on April 6, 2017.
Standard of Review
reviewing a final decision of the Commissioner, a district
court may not determine de novo whether an individual is
disabled. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g),
1388(c)(3); Wagner v. Sec'y of Health & Human
Servs., 906 F.2d 856, 860 (2d Cir. 1990). Rather, the
Commissioner's determination will only be reversed if the
correct legal standards were not applied, or it was not
supported by substantial evidence. Johnson v. Bowen,
817 F.2d 983, 986 (2d Cir. 1987); Berry v.
Schweiker, 675 F.2d 464, 467 (2d Cir. 1982). Substantial
evidence is “more than a mere scintilla, ”
meaning that in the record one can find “such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.” Halloran v. Barnhart,
362 F.3d 28, 31 (2d Cir. 2004) (citing Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (internal citations
omitted)). The substantial evidence standard is “a very
deferential standard of review . . . . [This] means once an
ALJ finds facts, we can reject [them] only if a reasonable
factfinder would have to conclude otherwise.”
Brault v. Soc. Sec. Admin., Comm'r, 683 F.3d
443, 448 (2d Cir. 2012) (internal quotations marks omitted).
Where there is reasonable doubt as to whether the
Commissioner applied the proper legal standards, the decision
should not be affirmed even though the ultimate conclusion
reached is arguably supported by substantial evidence.
Martone v. Apfel, 70 F.Supp.2d 145, 148 (N.D.N.Y.
1999) (citing Johnson v. Bowen, 817 F.2d 983, 986
(2d Cir. 1987)). However, if the correct legal standards were
applied and the ALJ's finding is supported by substantial
evidence, such finding must be sustained, “even where
substantial evidence may support the plaintiff's position
and despite that the court's independent analysis of the
evidence may differ from the [Commissioner's].”
Rosado v. Sullivan, 805 F.Supp. 147, 153 (S.D.N.Y.
1992) (citation omitted).
Determination of Disability
individual who is under a disability shall be entitled to a
disability . . . benefit . . . .” 42 U.S.C. §
423(a)(1). Disability is defined as the “inability to
engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any
medically determinable physical or mental impairment . . .
which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous
period of not less than 12 months.” Id. §
423(d)(1)(A). A medically-determinable impairment is an
affliction that is so severe that it renders an individual
unable to continue with his or her previous work or any other
employment that may be available to him or her based on his
or her age, education, and work experience. Id.
§ 423(d)(2)(A). Such an impairment must be supported by
“medically acceptable clinical and laboratory
diagnostic techniques.” Id. § 423(d)(3).
Additionally, the severity of the impairment is “based
[upon] objective medical facts, diagnoses or medical opinions
inferable from the facts, subjective complaints of pain or
disability, and educational background, age, and work
experience.” Ventura v. Barnhart, No.
04-CV-9018 (NRB), 2006 WL 399458, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 21,
2006) (citing Mongeur v. Heckler, 722 F.2d
1033, 1037) (2d Cir. 1983)).
Second Circuit employs a five-step analysis, based on 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520, to determine whether an individual is
entitled to disability benefits:
First, the [Commissioner] considers whether the claimant is
currently engaged in substantial gainful activity.
If he [or she] is not, the [Commissioner] next considers
whether the claimant has a “severe impairment”
which significantly limits his [or her] physical or mental
ability to do basic work activities.
If the claimant suffers such an impairment, the third inquiry
is whether, based solely on medical evidence, the claimant
has an impairment which is listed in Appendix 1 of the
regulations. If the claimant has such an impairment, the
[Commissioner] will consider him [or her] disabled without
considering vocational factors such as age, education, and
work experience; the [Commissioner] presumes that a claimant
who is afflicted with a “listed” impairment is
unable to perform substantial gainful activity.
Assuming the claimant does not have a listed impairment, the
fourth inquiry is whether, despite the claimant's severe
impairment, he [or she] has the residual functional ...