United States District Court, W.D. New York
DARREN J. CZECHOWSKI, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
OFFICES OF KENNETH HILLER KENNETH R. HILLER, ESQ. Counsel for
SOCIAL SECURITY ADMIN. OONA MARIE PETERSON ESQ., OFFICE OF
REG'L GEN. COUNSEL - REGION II Counsel for Defendant
MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER
William B. Mitchell Carter U.S. Magistrate Judge
11, 2018, the parties consented, in accordance with a
Standing Order to proceed before the undersigned. (Dkt. No.
19). The court has jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The matter is presently before the
court on 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 denied and the Commissioner's
motion is granted.
was born in 1959. (T. 93.) He received a GED. (T. 186.)
Generally, Plaintiff's alleged disability consists of
emphysema, seizure disorder, depression, liver damage,
sciatica, and numbness in his hands and feet. (T. 93.) His
alleged disability onset date is January 4, 2014. (T.
177.) His date last insured is December 31,
2018. (T. 20.) He previously worked as a machine operator.
January 26, 2014, Plaintiff applied for a period of
Disability Insurance Benefits (“SSD”) under Title
II of the Social Security Act. (T. 104.) Plaintiff's
application was initially denied, after which he timely
requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“the ALJ”). On June 28, 2016, Plaintiff appeared
before the ALJ, David J. Begley. (T. 64-92.) On August 26,
2016, ALJ Begley issued a written decision finding Plaintiff
not disabled under the Social Security Act. (T. 15-31.) On
January 31, 2017 the Appeals Council (“AC”)
denied Plaintiff's request for review, rendering the
ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner.
(T. 1-4.) Thereafter, Plaintiff timely sought judicial review
in this Court.
The ALJ's Decision
in his decision, the ALJ made the following five findings of
fact and conclusions of law. (T. 20-27.) First, the ALJ found
Plaintiff met the insured status requirements through
December 31, 2018 and Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since January 4, 2014. (T. 20.)
Second, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the severe impairments of
seizure disorder and depression. (Id.) The ALJ
determined Plaintiff's chronic obstructive pulmonary
disease (“COPD”), alcohol abuse/alcohol induced
cirrhosis, sciatica, and memory issues were non-severe
impairments. (T. 21.)
the ALJ found Plaintiff did not have an impairment that meets
or medically equals one of the listed impairments located in
20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix. 1. (Id.)
Fourth, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform:
work at all exertional levels but with the following
nonexertional limitations: except [Plaintiff] should avoid
ladders, ropes and scaffolds. [Plaintiff] should further
avoid unprotected heights and open flames. [Plaintiff] is
limited to simple, routine and repetitive tasks in a
workplace free of fast pace production requirements,
involving only simple, work-related decisions; with few, if
any, work place changes.
(T. 23-24.) Fifth, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was
capable of performing his past relevant work. (T. 26.)
THE PARTIES' BRIEFINGS
makes three separate arguments in support of his motion for
judgment on the pleadings. First, Plaintiff argues the
ALJ's RFC finding was not supported by substantial
evidence. (Dkt. No. 12 at 13-17.) Second, Plaintiff argues
the ALJ erred in failing to find Plaintiff's COPD,
sciatica, and peripheral edema were not severe impairments at
step two, and this error was not harmless because it infected
the balance of the ALJ's analysis. (Id. at
18-19.) Third, and lastly, Plaintiff argues the ALJ failed to
consider Plaintiff's testimony, including his subjective
complaints of pain, and failed to make an adequate
credibility finding. (Id. at 19-22.)
response, Defendant makes three arguments. First, Defendant
argues the ALJ properly determined Plaintiff's alleged
COPD, sciatica, and peripheral edema were not severe. (Dkt.
No. 17 at 18-21.) Second, Defendant argues the ALJ properly
assessed and determined that substantial record evidence
contradicted Plaintiff's subjective complaints.
(Id. at 21-25.) Third, and lastly, Defendant argues
the ALJ properly weighed the medical opinions of the record.
(Id. at 25-28.)
filed a reply to Defendant's memorandum. (Dkt. No. 18.)
In general, Plaintiff asserts Defendant fails to meaningfully
address the arguments and Defendant's arguments consist
of mostly post hoc rationalizations for the
ALJ's determinations. (Id.)
RELEVANT LEGAL STANDARD
Standard of Review
reviewing a denial of disability benefits may not determine
de novo whether an individual is disabled. See 42
U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(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. See Johnson v. Bowen, 817 F.2d
983, 986 (2d Cir. 1987) (“Where there is a reasonable
basis for doubt whether the ALJ applied correct legal
principles, application of the substantial evidence standard
to uphold a finding of no disability creates an unacceptable
risk that a claimant will be deprived of the right to have
her disability determination made according to the correct
legal principles.”); Grey v. Heckler, 721 F.2d
41, 46 (2d Cir. 1983); Marcus v. Califano, 615 F.2d
23, 27 (2d Cir. 1979).
evidence” is evidence that amounts to “more than
a mere scintilla, ” and has been defined as “such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 1427 (1971).
Where evidence is deemed susceptible to more than one
rational interpretation, the Commissioner's conclusion
must be upheld. See Rutherford v. Schweiker, 685
F.2d 60, 62 (2d Cir. 1982).
determine on appeal whether the ALJ's findings are
supported by substantial evidence, a reviewing court
considers the whole record, examining evidence from both
sides, because an analysis of the substantiality of the
evidence must also include that which detracts ...