United States District Court, W.D. New York
DECISION AND ORDER
MICHAEL A. TELESCA UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
by counsel, plaintiff Luis Enrique Cruz
(“Plaintiff”) brings this action pursuant to
Title 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 application for 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 denied and the Commissioner's
motion is granted.
filed an application for SSI on November 27, 2009, alleging
disability as of June 1, 2009 due to rheumatoid arthritis.
Administrative Transcript (“T.”) 134-37, 158.
Plaintiff's application was initially denied. T. 50-54.
At Plaintiff's request, a hearing was held before
administrative law judge (“ALJ”) William Weir on
November 10, 2011, at which Plaintiff appeared pro
se. T. 38-48. On April 26, 2012, the ALJ issued an
unfavorable decision. T. 19-32. On June 25, 2013, the Appeals
Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the
ALJ's determination the Commissioner's final
decision. T. 1-4.
timely commenced an action in this Court challenging the
Commissioner's final decision and, on August 8, 2014, the
Court issued a Decision and Order remanding the matter for
further administrative proceedings. T. 616-17. On September
18, 2014, the Appeals Council remanded the matter to the ALJ,
instructing him to complete the administrative record, offer
Plaintiff the opportunity for a hearing, and issue a new
decision. T. 624-26.
hearing before ALJ Weir was held on May 15, 2015. T. 504-557.
Plaintiff appeared with his counsel, and testimony was taken
from medical expert Dr. Anthony Levine and vocational expert
(“VE”) Timothy Janikowski. After this hearing,
Plaintiff's counsel submitted a brief to the ALJ in which
she requested a medical expert with knowledge and experience
in endocrinology (specifically related to diabetes) review
Plaintiff's file. T. 790. Accordingly, a supplemental
hearing was held on November 2, 2015, at which medical expert
Dr. Dorothy Kunstadt and VE Rachel A. Duchin testified. T.
September 29, 2016, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision.
T. 479-502. Plaintiff thereafter commenced this action.
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. At step one of the five-step
sequential evaluation, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had
not engaged in substantial gainful activity since November
27, 2009, the date of his application. T. 485.
two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from the severe
impairments of obesity, type II diabetes mellitus, and
degenerative disc disease of L3-L4 and L5-S1. Id.
The ALJ further found that Plaintiff's hypertensive heart
disease, history of peripheral vascular disease, asthma, and
substance abuse disorder were not severe impairments, and
that he did not have medically determinable impairments of
arthritis or joint dysfunction. T. 485-87.
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.
proceeding to step four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff
retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”)
to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §
416.967(b), with the following additional limitations: can
lift 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; can
occasionally carry 10 pounds; can sit for six hours total and
stand for three hours total in an eight-hour workday; can sit
and stand for no longer than 30 minutes each without
interruption and must sit for at least one minute after
standing for 30 minutes; can walk two hours total in an
eight-hour workday, but for no more than 20 minutes at a
time; must avoid walking on uneven surfaces; can occasionally
crouch, stoop, bend, and climb stairs and ramps, but cannot
do so repeatedly; cannot climb scaffolds, crawl, kneel,
operate heavy machinery, work at unprotected heights, work in
extreme cold, or reach above shoulder height with his right
arm; and must have the opportunity to use the bathroom for
one to two minutes every hour. T. 487-88.
four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had no past relevant work.
T. 493. At step five, the ALJ relied on the testimony of a
vocational expert (“VE”) 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, including
the representative occupations of cashier, bench assembler,
and inspector. T. 494. Accordingly, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff was not disabled as defined in the Act. T. 494-95.
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).
case, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's RFC finding was not
supported by substantial evidence. In particular, Plaintiff
contends that (1) the ALJ failed to properly evaluate the
medical opinions of record, (2) the ALJ failed to properly
develop the record despite the presence of clear gaps in the
medical evidence, (3) the ALJ failed to properly consider the
limiting effects of Plaintiff's severe and non-severe
impairments in combination, and (4) the ALJ mischaracterized