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Joseph K. v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.

United States District Court, N.D. New York

August 2, 2018

JOSEPH K. Plaintiff,
v.
COMM'R OF SOC. SEC., Defendant.

          LAW OFFICES OF STEVEN R. DOLSON Counsel for Plaintiff, STEVEN R. DOLSON, ESQ.

          U.S. SOCIAL SECURITY ADMIN. Counsel for Defendant, BENIL ABRAHAM, ESQ.

          DECISION AND ORDER[1]

          DANIEL J. STEWART UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         In this action, Plaintiff moves, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), for review of a decision by the Commissioner of Social Security denying his application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). Presently pending are Plaintiff's and Defendant's Motions for Judgment on the Pleadings pursuant to this Court's General Order 18. Dkt. Nos. 9 & 10. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings is denied and Defendant's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings is granted. The Commissioner's decision denying Plaintiff disability benefits is affirmed, and Plaintiff's Complaint is dismissed.

         I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND A. Background

         Plaintiff, born on October 10, 1966, filed an application for SSI on January 23, 2014, claiming an inability to work as of that date, due to Bipolar Disorder, a right knee replacement, degenerative bone disease, four herniated discs in his back, back injury, right knee injury, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Dkt. No. 8, Administrative Transcript (“Tr.”) at pp. 34 & 56. Plaintiff has obtained a GED, and has past work as a laborer, driver, lead mechanic, and roofing mechanic. Tr. at pp. 37 & 169. On October 19, 2015, a hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Marie Greener. Tr. at pp. 32-54. Plaintiff was represented by counsel and testified at the hearing. Id. On December 18, 2015, ALJ Greener issued an unfavorable decision finding Plaintiff not disabled. Tr. at pp. 14-31. On May 12, 2017, the Appeals Council concluded there was no basis to review the ALJ's decision, thus rendering the ALJ's decision the final determination of the Commissioner. Tr. at pp. 1-6. This action followed.

         B. The ALJ's Decision

         ALJ Greener first found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 23, 2014, the application date and alleged onset date. Tr. at pp. 19 & 34. The ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease and herniated nucleus pulposus of the cervical and thoracic spine without compression, status post total knee replacement, affective disorder, and attention deficit disorder. Tr. at p. 19.

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff's chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, status post rib and right great toe fractures, irritable bowel syndrome, mild degenerative changes to his left knee and lumbar spine, right elbow contusion, high cholesterol and obesity were non-severe, and found that no records or exams indicated that Plaintiff had a medically determinable learning disorder. Tr. at p. 20. The ALJ next found that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of the listed impairments, specifically considering Listings 1.02A, 1.04, and 12.04. Tr. at pp. 20-22. The ALJ determined that Plaintiff has a residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to

perform unskilled sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(a). The claimant specifically retains the ability to lift/carry up to 10 pounds; stand for 2 hours out of an 8 hour workday; walk for 2 hours out of an 8 hour workday; sit for 6 hours out of an 8 hour workday; understand and follow simple instructions and directions; perform simple tasks with supervision and independently; maintain his attention and concentration for simple tasks; regularly attend to a routine and maintain a schedule; relate to and interact appropriately with others to the extent necessary to carry out simple tasks; and handle reasonable levels of simple, repetitive work-related stress in that he can make occasional decisions directly related to the performance of simple tasks in a position with consistent job duties that does not require the claimant to supervise or manage the work of others. The claimant has no other exertional or non-exertional limitations.

         Tr. at p. 22. The ALJ next found that Plaintiff has no past relevant work; was 47 years old, which is defined as a younger individual age 45-49, on the date the application was filed; and that he has a high school education and is able to communicate in English. Tr. at p. 26. The ALJ found that transferability of job skills was not an issue because Plaintiff did not have past relevant work. Id. The ALJ found that, considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience and RFC, there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform. Id. The ALJ utilized the Medical-Vocational Guidelines (“the Grids”) in order to make this determination, reasoning that Plaintiff's limitations that go beyond limiting him to unskilled sedentary work have little or no effect on the occupational base of unskilled sedentary work as he retained the RFC to perform the basic mental demands of competitive, remunerative, unskilled work as outlined in SSR 85-15. Id. As such, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled during the period at issue. Tr. at p. 27.

         C. The Parties' Briefings on Their Cross-Motions

         In his Motion, Plaintiff first contends that he has a limitation in the ability to reach that is not included in the ALJ's RFC. Dkt. No. 9, Pl.'s Mem. of Law, pp. 5-6. Plaintiff contends that the ALJ did not provide sufficient explanation for not adopting the consultative examiner's opinion regarding Plaintiff's reaching limitations, and that a significant limitation in reaching could have a significant impact on the occupational base, requiring the use of a vocational expert (“VE”), and thus making reliance on the Grids improper. Id. Plaintiff next contends that he has a limitation on the ability to bend at the waist that is not included in the ALJ's RFC, contending that such a limitation is supported by the medical records and multiple medical source opinions. Id. Plaintiff contends that limitations in bending at the waist could have a significant impact on the occupational base, requiring the opinion of a VE to determine if jobs exist in significant numbers in the economy that Plaintiff can perform. Id. at pp. 6-8. Finally, Plaintiff contends that the ALJ did not apply the treating physician rule, by giving little weight to Plaintiff's treating physician's opinion, noting that although portions of the opinion are inconsistent with the other evidence of record, other portions of the opinion are not, and should have been given great weight. Id. at pp. 8-12. Plaintiff contends that the ALJ did not provide good reasons for giving little weight to the opinion. Id. at pp. 11-12.

         In response, Defendant contends that the RFC was supported by substantial evidence. In particular, Defendant contends that the ALJ's RFC accounted for all of Plaintiff's impairments, and provided sufficient explanation for the findings she did not adopt, and contends that the record does not support further limitations in reaching or bending. Dkt. No. 10, Def.'s Mem. of Law at pp. 6-7. Next, Defendant contends that the ALJ properly weighed the opinion of Plaintiff's treating physician, providing sufficient explanation for the weight accorded to it. Id. at pp. 9-12.

         II. RELEVANT LEGAL STANDARD

         A. ...


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