United States District Court, W.D. New York
DECISION AND ORDER
WILLIAM M. SKRETNY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Plaintiff Karoline llise Tyran challenges an Administrative
Law Judge's ("ALJ") decision dated March 31,
2015, wherein the ALJ determined that she is not disabled
within the meaning of the Social Security Act (the
"Act"). Plaintiff now contends that this
determination is not based upon substantial evidence, and
remand is warranted.
Plaintiff protectively filed an application for supplemental
security income on February 20, 2013, alleging a disability
onset date of January 1, 2006. The claim was initially denied
on June 11, 2011. Plaintiff thereafter requested a hearing
before an ALJ and, on January 8, 2015, Plaintiff appeared and
testified in Buffalo, NY. At the hearing, Plaintiff amended
her disability onset date to February 20, 2013. The ALJ
subsequently found, on March 31, 2015, that Plaintiff was not
disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act.
Plaintiff filed an administrative appeal and the Appeals
Council denied Plaintiffs request for review on November 2,
2016, rendering the ALJ's determination the
Commissioner's final decision. Plaintiff filed the
instant action on December 19, 2016.
Plaintiff and the Commissioner each filed a Motion for
Judgment on the Pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Docket Nos. 9, 13.)
Judgment on the pleadings is appropriate where material facts
are undisputed and where a judgment on the merits is possible
merely by considering the contents of the pleadings.
Sellers v. M.C. Floor Crafters, Inc., 842 F.2d 639,
642 (2d Cir. 1988).
court 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'v of Health & Human Servs., 906 F.2d 856,
860 (2d Cir. 1990). Rather, the Commissioner's
determination will be reversed only if it is not supported by
substantial evidence or there has been a legal error. See
Grey v. Heckler, 721 F.2d 41, 46 (2d Cir. 1983);
Marcus v. Califano, 615 F.2d 23, 27 (2d Cir. 1979).
Substantial evidence is that which amounts to "more than
a mere scintilla," and it 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, 28
L.Ed.2d 842 (1971) (internal quotation marks and citation
omitted). 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), cert,
denied, 459 U.S. 1212 (1983).
determine whether the ALJ's findings are supported by
substantial evidence, "a reviewing court considers the
whole record, examining the evidence from both sides, because
an analysis of the substantiality of the evidence must also
include that which detracts from its weight."
Williams on Behalf of Williams v. Bowen, 859 F.2d
255, 258 (2d Cir. 1988). If supported by substantial
evidence, the Commissioner's 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). In other words, this Court
must afford the Commissioner's determination considerable
deference, and will not substitute "its own judgment for
that of the [Commissioner], even if it might justifiably have
reached a different result upon a de novo
review." Valente v. Sec'y of Healths Human
Servs., 733 F.2d 1037, 1041 (2d Cir. 1984).
United States Supreme Court recognized the validity of this
analysis in Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140-42,
107 S.Ct. 2287, 2291, 96 L.Ed.2d 119 (1987), and it remains
the proper approach for analyzing whether a claimant is
five-step process is detailed below:
First, the [Commissioner] considers whether the claimant is
currently engaged in substantial gainful activity. If he is
not, the [Commissioner] next considers whether the claimant
has a "severe impairment" which significantly
limits his 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 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 has the residual functional capacity to
perform his past work. Finally, if the claimant is unable to
perform his past work, the [Commissioner] then determines
whether there is other work which the claimant could perform.
Berry v. Schweiker, 675 F.2d 464, 467 (2d Cir. 1982)
(per curiam); see also Rosa v. Callahan, 168 F.3d
72, 77 (2d Cir. 1999); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520.
Although the claimant has the burden of proof as to the first
four steps, the Commissioner has the burden of proof on the
fifth and final step. See Bowen, 482 U.S. at 146
n.5; Ferraris v. Heckler, 728 F.2d 582, 584 (2d Cir.
1984). The final step of this inquiry is, in turn, divided
into two parts. First, the Commissioner must assess the
claimant's job qualifications by considering his physical
ability, age, education and work experience. Second, the
Commissioner must determine whether jobs exist in the
national economy that a person having the claimant's
qualifications could perform. See 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(2)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g); Heckler v.
Campbell, 461 U.S. 458, 460-61, 103 S.Ct. 1952, 1954, 76
L.Ed.2d 66 (1983).
ALJ made the following findings with regard to the five-step
process set forth above: (1) Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since February 20, 2013, the
application date (R. 22); (2) Plaintiff had the following severe
impairments: peripheral neuropathy and Raynaud's
syndrome (id); (3) Plaintiff did not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled a recognized disabling impairment under the
regulations (R. 23); (4) Plaintiff had the residual
functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work
as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(b) with certain
exertional limitations (R. 24); and (5) jobs exist in the
national economy that Plaintiff is able to perform (R. 30).
Plaintiff challenges the decision, contending that the RFC
determination is not supported by substantial evidence
because rejection of certain medical opinions created a gap
in the record that the ALJ was obligated to address. This
ALJ found that Plaintiff has an RFC for light work with
certain additional exertional limitations, but did not apply
any non-exertional limitations or otherwise discuss
Plaintiff's non-severe impairment of cognitive disorder.
(R. 24.) An RFC determination specifies the "most [a
claimant] can still do despite [her] limitations," 20
C.F.R. § 404.1545, and is reserved for the commissioner,
see 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1527(e)(2) and 416.927(e)(2).
However, "[a]n ALJ's RFC assessment is a medical
determination that must be based on probative medical
evidence of record. Accordingly, an ALJ may not substitute
his own judgment for ...