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Michels v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. New York

February 28, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         I. Introduction

         Represented by counsel, plaintiff Warner Martin Michels (“Plaintiff”) brings 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[1] (the “Commissioner” or “Defendant”) denying his application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). The Court has jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Presently before the Court are the parties' cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons discussed below, Plaintiff's motion is granted to the extent that this case is remanded to the Commissioner for further administrative proceedings consistent with this Decision and Order, and the Commissioner's motion is denied.

         II. Procedural History

         Plaintiff protectively filed an application for DIB in May 2012, alleging disability as of February 1, 2011 due to a learning disorder, attention deficit disorder, and anxiety. Administrative Transcript (“T.”) 144-52, 186. Plaintiff's application was initially denied. T. 69-76. At Plaintiff's request, a hearing was held before administrative law judge (“ALJ”) Grenville W. Harrop, Jr. on August 8, 2013. T. 26-54. On May 28, 2014, ALJ Harrop issued a decision in which he found that Plaintiff was not disabled as defined in the Act. T. 12-21. On June 10, 2012, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, rendering the ALJ's determination the Commissioner's final decision. T. 1-6. This action followed.

         III. The ALJ's Decision

         Initially, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act though December 31, 2016. T. 14. At step one of the five-step sequential evaluation, see 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 1, 2011, the alleged onset date. Id. At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments of anxiety, depression, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (“ADHD”) and the non-severe impairment of hyperlipidemia. Id. At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of any listed impairment. T. 15. The ALJ particularly considered section 4.00 (cardiovascular impairments) and Listings 12.04 (depressive, bipolar, and related disorders) and 12.06 (anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorders) in reaching this determination. T. 15-16.

         Before proceeding to step four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff retained the RFC to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels with the following non-exertional limitations: minimal to no limitations in the ability to follow and understand simple directions and to perform simple tasks independently; moderate limitations in the ability to maintain attention and concentration, to keep a regular schedule, to learn new tasks, to perform complex tasks independently, to make appropriate decisions, to relate adequately with others, and to appropriately deal with stress. T. 15-16.

         At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work. T. 20. At step five, the ALJ relied on the testimony of a vocational expert to conclude 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. Id. Accordingly, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled. T. 21.

         IV. Discussion

         A. Scope of Review

         A 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). Although the reviewing court must scrutinize the whole record and examine evidence that supports or detracts from both sides, Tejada v. Apfel, 167 F.3d 770, 774 (2d Cir. 1998) (citation omitted), “[i]f there is substantial evidence to support the [Commissioner's] determination, it must be upheld.” Selian v. Astrue, 708 F.3d 409, 417 (2d Cir. 2013). “The deferential standard of review for substantial evidence does not apply to the Commissioner's conclusions of law.” Byam v. Barnhart, 336 F.3d 172, 179 (2d Cir. 2003).

         Here, Plaintiff makes the following arguments in support of his motion for judgment on the pleadings: (1) the AlJ failed to properly consider Plaintiff's learning disorder; (2) the ALJ's RFC finding was not in functional terms and therefore frustrates meaningful review; and (3) the ALJ's credibility determination was not supported by substantial evidence. For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds that remand of this matter for further administrative proceedings is necessary.

         B. Consideration of ...

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