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Burkard v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, W.D. New York

July 31, 2018

ALEXANDER W. BURKARD, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          DECISION AND ORDER

          ELIZABETH A. WOLFORD JUDGE

         INTRODUCTION

         Represented by counsel, Plaintiff Alexander Burkard ("Plaintiff) brings 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 (the "Commissioner," or "Defendant") denying his application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental security income ("SSI"). (Dkt. 1). This 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. (Dkt. 10; Dkt. 12). For the reasons discussed below, Plaintiff s motion (Dkt. 10) is granted in part, the Commissioner's motion (Dkt. 12) is denied, and this case is remanded to the Commissioner for further administrative proceedings consistent with this Decision and Order.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff protectively filed an application for DIB on December 16, 2013, and an application for SSI on December 20, 2013. (Dkt. 7 at 20).[1] In both applications, Plaintiff alleged disability beginning on December 1, 2012. (Id.). Plaintiffs applications were initially denied on April 11, 2014. (Id.). At Plaintiffs request, a hearing was held before administrative law judge ("ALJ") Stephen Cordovani on April 18, 2016. (Id. at 35-64). On May 23, 2016, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. (Id. at 17-29). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs request for review on February 3, 2017, making the ALJ's determination the Commissioner's final decision. (Id. at 5-7). This action followed.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         I. District Court Review

         "In reviewing a final decision of the SSA, this Court is limited to determining whether the SSA's conclusions were supported by substantial evidence in the record and were based on a correct legal standard." Talavera v. Astrue, 697 F.3d 145, 151 (2d Cir. 2012) (quotation marks omitted); see also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The Act holds that a decision by the Commissioner is "conclusive" if it is supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). "Substantial evidence means more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Moran v. Astrue, 569 F.3d 108, 112 (2d Cir. 2009) (quotation marks omitted).

         It is not the Court's function to "determine de novo whether [the claimant] is disabled." Schaal v. Apfel, 134 F.3d 496, 501 (2d Cir. 1998) (quotation marks omitted); see also Wagner v. Sec 'y of Health & Human Servs., 906 F.2d 856, 860 (2d Cir. 1990) (holding that review of the Secretary's decision is not de novo and that the Secretary's findings are conclusive if supported by substantial evidence).

         II. Disability Determination

         An ALJ must follow a five-step sequential evaluation to determine whether a claimant is disabled within the meaning of the Act. See Parker v. City of New York, 476 U.S. 467, 470-71 (1986). At step one, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful work activity. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b). If so, the claimant is not disabled. If not, the ALJ proceeds to step two and determines whether the claimant has an impairment, or combination of impairments, that is "severe" within the meaning of the Act, meaning that it imposes significant restrictions on the claimant's ability to perform basic work activities. Id. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). If the claimant does not have a severe impairment or combination of impairments, the analysis concludes with a finding of "not disabled." If the claimant does, the ALJ continues to step three.

         At step three, the ALJ examines whether a claimant's impairment meets or medically equals the criteria of a listed impairment in Appendix 1 of Subpart P of Regulation No. 4 (the "Listings"). Id. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d). If the impairment meets or medically equals the criteria of a Listing and meets the durational requirement (id. §§ 404.1509, 416.909), the claimant is disabled. If not, the ALJ determines the claimant's residual functional capacity ("RFC"), which is the ability to perform physical or mental work activities on a sustained basis, notwithstanding limitations for the collective impairments. See Id. §§ 404.1520(e), 416.920(e).

         The ALJ then proceeds to step four and determines whether the claimant's RFC permits the claimant to perform the requirements of his or her past relevant work. Id. §§ 404.1520(f), 416.920(f). If the claimant can perform such requirements, then he or she is not disabled. If he or she cannot, the analysis proceeds to the fifth and final step, wherein the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that the claimant is not disabled. Id. ยงยง 404.1520(g), 416.920(g). To do so, the Commissioner must present evidence to demonstrate that the claimant "retains a residual functional capacity to perform alternative substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy" in light of ...


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