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Hollaway v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, W.D. New York

March 30, 2018

STEVE HOLLAWAY, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          DECISION AND ORDER

          HON. MICHAEL A. TELESCA United States District Judge .

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Represented by counsel, Steve Hollaway (“Plaintiff”) has brought 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 (“Defendant” or “the Commissioner”) denying his application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). This Court has jurisdiction over the matter pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Presently before the Court are the parties' competing motions for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's motion is denied and Defendant's motion is granted.

         II. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On November 19, 2012, Plaintiff protectively filed an application for SSI, alleging disability beginning November 21, 2009 due to cardiac conditions, dyslipidemia, depression, and anxiety. Administrative Transcript (“T.”) 83, 138-45. Plaintiff's application was initially denied and he timely requested a hearing, which was held before administrative law judge (“ALJ”) David S. Lewandowski on August 15, 2014. T. 34-82. At the hearing, Plaintiff amended his alleged onset date to September 27, 2012. T. 10.

         On February 19, 2015, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. T. 7-27. Plaintiff's request for review was denied by the Appeals Council on September 23, 2016, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. T. 1-6. Plaintiff then timely commenced this action.

         III. THE ALJ'S DECISION

         The ALJ applied the five-step sequential evaluation promulgated by the Commissioner for adjudicating disability claims. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a). Initially, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act through December 31, 2014. T. 12.

         At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity from September 27, 2012, the amended alleged onset date. T. 12. At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the severe impairments of coronary artery disease with stent placement and status post myocardial infarction, hypertension with headaches, kidney disease, and obesity, and the non-severe impairments of cysts in his liver, vision problems, major depressive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder with substance conditions. T. 13-16. At step three, the ALJ considered Plaintiff's impairments and found that, singly or in combination, they did not meet or medically equal the severity of a listed impairment. T. 16. In particular, the ALJ considered Listings 4.02, 4.04, 6.02, 6.04, and Sections 4.00 and 11.00 in reaching this determination. T. 16-17.

         Prior to proceeding to step four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b), except that he must avoid industrial hazards, can only occasionally perform postural activities, and cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. T. 17.

         At step four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work. T. 22. At step five, the ALJ relied on the testimony of a vocational expert to find that, taking into account Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform, including the representative occupations housekeeping cleaner, ticket seller, and mail clerk. T. 23-24. The ALJ accordingly found that Plaintiff was not disabled as defined in the Act. T. 24.

         IV. DISCUSSION

         A. Scope of Review

         When considering a claimant's challenge to the decision of the Commissioner denying benefits under the Act, a district court must accept the Commissioner's findings of fact, provided that such findings are supported by “substantial evidence” in the record. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (the Commissioner's findings “as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive”). 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, ...


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