United States District Court, W.D. New York
TODD J. JAY, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
DECISION AND ORDER
WILLIAM M. SKRETNY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Plaintiff Todd J. Jay challenges the determination of an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) that he is not
disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act
(“the Act”). Plaintiff alleges that he has been
disabled since September 1, 2011, due to (1) anxiety
disorder, (2) depressive disorder, (3) bipolar disorder, (4)
degenerative disc disease, (5) tinnitus, and (6) shoulder
problems. Plaintiff contends that his impairments render him
unable to work, and thus, that he is entitled to disability
benefits under the Act.
Plaintiff filed an application for disability benefits and
supplemental security income on February 21, 2013, which the
Commissioner denied on June 7, 2013. Plaintiff thereafter
requested a hearing before an ALJ. On April 20, 2015, ALJ
Sharon Seeley held a hearing at which Plaintiff appeared with
counsel and testified. At the time of the hearing, Plaintiff
was 56 years old, had at least a high school education, and
was able to communicate in English. The ALJ considered the
case de novo and, on August 19, 2015, issued a written
decision denying Plaintiff's application for benefits.
The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review
on December 7, 2016. Plaintiff filed the current action on
January 20, 2017, challenging the Commissioner's final
July 31, 2017, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Judgment on the
Pleadings under Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure. (Docket No. 11.) On September 28, 2017, the
Commissioner filed a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings.
(Docket No. 13.) Plaintiff filed a reply on October 23, 2017
(Docket No. 14), at which time this Court took the matter
under advisement without oral argument. For the following
reasons, Plaintiff's motion is granted, and
Defendant's motion is denied.
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'y 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 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). 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).
“To determine on appeal whether an 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
Health & Human Servs., 733 F.2d 1037, 1041 (2d
Commissioner has established a five-step sequential
evaluation process to determine whether an individual is
disabled under the Act. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520,
416.920. The Supreme Court of the United States recognized
the validity of this analysis in Bowen v. Yuckert,
and it remains the proper approach for analyzing whether a
claimant is disabled. 482 U.S. 137, 140-42, 107 S.Ct. 2287,
2291, 96 L.Ed.2d 119 (1987).
five-step process is as follows:
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) (quotations in original); see also 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520; Rosa v. Callahan, 168 F.3d 72, 77
(2d Cir. 1999).
Although the claimant has the burden of proof on 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 is 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(f); Heckler v. Campbell, 461 U.S.
458, 460, 103 S.Ct. 1952, 1954, 76 L.Ed.2d 66 (1983).
this case, the ALJ made the following findings with regard to
the five-step process set forth above: (1) Plaintiff meets
the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act
through March 31, 2012 (R. at 21); (2) Plaintiff has not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since September 1,
2011, the alleged onset date, as amended (R. at 21); (3)
Plaintiff's anxiety disorder, depressive disorder,
bipolar disorder, and degenerative disc disease are severe
impairments within the meaning of the Act (R. at 21); (4)
Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that meet or medically equal any of the
impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix
1 (R. at 22); (5) Plaintiff retained the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to perform a less than full
range of light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §
404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) (R. at 25); (6) Plaintiff
could not perform his past relevant work (R. at 31); and (7)
Plaintiff could perform jobs that exist in significant No. in
the national economy (R. at 32.) Accordingly, the ALJ
determined that Plaintiff was not under a disability as
defined by the Act during the relevant period-September 1,
2011, through August 19, 2015. (R. at 34.)
Plaintiff first argues that the ALJ erred by not properly
considering Medical Listing 12.04 for Affective Disorders.
Specifically, Plaintiff contends that the ALJ inconsistently
found that he has moderate limitations in social functioning
at Step 3, but then finding in the RFC that he can have only
“occasional interaction with supervisors; and
occasional, incidental interaction with co-workers and the
general public.” (R. at 24-25.) Plaintiff maintains
that this inconsistency warrants remand for reconsideration
at Step 3, because the RFC restrictions, particularly only
incidental interaction with co-workers and the public, exceed
a “moderate limitation” finding.
Step 3, an ALJ must consider whether a claimant's
impairments meet or equal in severity any of the Medical
Listings in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Under
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii) and
416.920(a)(4)(iii), if the impairments meet or equal the
specific requirements of a Listing, a claimant is found
disabled per se at Step 3 and disability benefits are
awarded. Plaintiff has the burden of showing that he meets or
equals Listing ...