United States District Court, W.D. New York
DECISION AND ORDER
MICHAEL A. TELESCA United States District Judge.
by counsel, plaintiff Dwayne Falbru (“Plaintiff”)
brings this action pursuant to Titles II and XVI of the
Social Security Act (the “Act”), seeking review
of the final decision of defendant the Acting Commissioner of
Social Security (the “Commissioner” or
“Defendant”) denying his applications for
disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and
supplemental security income (“SSI”). 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.
protectively filed applications for DIB and SSI in March
2013, alleging disability as of February 12, 2013 due to
degenerative disc disease and lower back problems.
Administrative Transcript (“T.”) 67, 164-70.
Plaintiff's application was initially denied. T. 95-110.
At Plaintiff's request, a hearing was held before
administrative law judge (“ALJ”) Brian Kane on
February 26, 2015. T. 40-66. On April 6, 2015, the ALJ issued
an unfavorable decision. T. 19-35. On March 21, 2017, the
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review,
making the ALJ's determination the Commissioner's
final decision. T. 1-6. This action followed.
The ALJ's Decision
determining whether Plaintiff was disabled, the ALJ applied
the five-step sequential evaluation set forth in 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520, 416.920. Initially, the ALJ determined
that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Act
through March 31, 2014. T. 24. At step one of the five-step
sequential evaluation, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had
not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged
onset date. Id. At step two, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments of
degenerative disc disease and resultant low back pain.
Id. The ALJ further found that Plaintiff suffered
from the non-severe impairments of migraines,
gastroesophageal reflux disease, sleep problems, and
depression. T. 24-25.
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.
26. The ALJ particularly considered Listing 1.04 (disorders
of the spine) in reaching this determination. Id.
proceeding to step four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff
retained the RFC to perform the full range of light work as
defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b).
four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was capable of performing
his past relevant work as a fast food worker. T. 29. In the
alternative, 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 were jobs that exist in significant numbers in the
national economy that Plaintiff could perform. T. 29-30.
Accordingly, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled as
defined in the Act. T. 30.
Scope of Review
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).
Plaintiff contends that the ALJ's RFC finding was not
supported by substantial evidence. In particular, Plaintiff
argues that the ALJ improperly relied on his own lay opinion
in determining that Plaintiff was capable of performing light
work, rather than relying on competent medical opinion.
Plaintiff further argues that the ALJ erred at step two when
he found that Plaintiff's migraines and depression were
not severe impairments. For ...