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Zimpfer v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, W.D. New York

January 2, 2020





         Plaintiff David Zimpfer (“Plaintiff”) brings this action pursuant to the Social Security Act (the “Act”), seeking review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the “Commissioner”) denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title II of the Act. See ECF No. 1. The Court has jurisdiction over this action under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c), and the parties consented to proceed before the undersigned, in accordance with a standing order (see ECF No. 15).

         Both parties moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). See ECF Nos. 9, 14. Plaintiff also filed a reply, and the Commissioner filed a sur-reply. See ECF Nos. 17, 20. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's motion (ECF No. 9) is DENIED, and the Commissioner's motion (ECF No. 14) is GRANTED.


         On April 30, 2015, Plaintiff filed his DIB application, alleging a disability beginning on April 20, 2014 (the “disability onset date”). Transcript (“Tr.”) 115, 251-57. Plaintiff alleged disability due to: diabetes, impairments in his left arm and shoulder, depression, and anxiety. Tr. 251, 271. Plaintiff's claim was initially denied on August 17, 2015, after which he requested an administrative hearing. Administrative Law Judge Brian Battles (the “ALJ”) held a video hearing from Alexandria, Virginia, on September 15, 2017. Tr. 115. Plaintiff appeared and testified from Buffalo, New York, and was represented by Amanda Jordan-Pugh, an attorney. Tr. 115, 132. Stephanie R Archer, an impartial vocational expert (“VE”), also appeared and testified at the hearing. Id.

         The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on November 27, 2017, finding that Plaintiff was not disabled. Tr. 112-31. On October 30, 2018, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for further review. Tr. 1-7. The ALJ's decision thus became the “final decision” of the Commissioner subject to judicial review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).


         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) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)) (other citation omitted). The Act holds that the Commissioner's decision 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) (citations 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. 1990).

         II. The Sequential Evaluation Process

         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). 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). If the claimant does not have a severe impairment or combination of impairments meeting the durational requirements, 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). If the impairment meets or medically equals the criteria of a Listing and meets the durational requirement, the claimant is disabled. Id. § 404.1509. If not, the ALJ determines the claimant's residual functional capacity, 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)-(f).

         The ALJ then proceeds to step four and determines whether the claimant's RFC permits him or her to perform the requirements of his or her past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f). If the claimant can perform such requirements, then he or she is not disabled. Id. 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. § 404.1520(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 his or her age, education, and work experience. See Rosa v. Callahan, 168 F.3d 72, 77 (2d Cir. 1999) (quotation marks omitted); see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1560(c).


         The ALJ analyzed Plaintiff's claim for benefits under the process described above and made the following findings in his November 27, 2017 decision:

1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2019;
2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 21, 2014, the alleged onset date (20 CFR 404.1571 et seq.);
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: Diabetes Mellitus; Carpal Tunnel Syndrome; Degenerative Joint Disease and AC Joint Arthritis of the Left Shoulder; Sleep Apnea; Depression; and Anxiety (20 CFR 404.1520(c));
4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, ...

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