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Nicholas C. v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, N.D. New York

January 6, 2020

NICHOLAS C., Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          DECISION & ORDER

          THOMAS J. MCAVOY, SR. U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Nicholas C. brings this action pursuant to the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), for review of a final determination by the Commissioner of Social Security denying her application for benefits. Plaintiff alleges that the Administrative Law Judge's decision denying his application for benefits was not supported by substantial evidence and was contrary to the applicable legal standards. Pursuant to Northern District of New York General Order No. 8, the Court proceeds as if both parties had accompanied their briefs with a motion for judgment on the pleadings.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff applied for Title II Social Security benefits on January 29, 2015. See Social Security Administrative Record (“R”), dkt. # 8, at 211. The Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's application on March 19, 2015. Id. at 91. Plaintiff appealed, and Administrative Law Judge Gretchen Mary Greisler held a hearing on June 6, 2017. The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on July 19, 2017. See R. 11-28. Plaintiff appealed, and the Social Security Appeals council denied his request for review on August 22, 2018. Id. at 1. Plaintiff then made a timely application to U.S. District Court. This Court has jurisdiction over the ALJ's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3).

         II. FACTS

         The Court will assume familiarity with the facts and set forth only those facts relevant to the Court's decision.

         Plaintiff, who injured himself at work and received workers' compensation in 2011, alleges Social Security disability due to: cervical myalgia; degenerative disc disease; occipital headache, and depression. R. at 78.

         III. THE ADMINISTRATIVE LAW JUDGE'S DECISION

         The question before the ALJ was wether Plaintiff was disabled under the Social Security Act. The ALJ engaged in the five-step analysis required by 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a) to determine whether a claimant qualifies for disability benefits. See R. at 14-28.

The Social Security Administration regulations outline the five-step, sequential evaluation process used to determine whether a claimant is disabled: (1) whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment or combination of impairments; (3) whether the impairment meets or equals the severity of the specified impairments in the Listing of Impairments; (4) based on a “residual functional capacity” assessment, whether the claimant can perform any of his or her past relevant work despite the impairment; and (5) whether there are significant numbers of jobs in the national economy that the claimant can perform given the claimant's residual functional capacity, age, education, and work experience.

McIntyre v. Colvin, 758 F.3d 146, 150 (2d Cir. 2014).

         The ALJ applied these five steps. Noting that Plaintiff last met the insured status requirements of the Act on December 31, 2016, the ALJ found at Step 1 that Plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity from the alleged onset date of April 20, 2011 until his last insured day on December 31, 2016. Id. at 16. At Step 2, the ALJ found that Plaintiff suffered from the severe impairments of cervical spine degenerative disc disease, obesity, brachial neuritis and ligamentous tear in the left knee. Id. These impairments, the ALJ found, “more than slightly limit the ability to perform basic work activities[.]” Id. at 17. The ALJ also found that Plaintiff suffered from the non-severe impairments of hypertension, asthma, and migraine headaches. Id. at 17-18. The ALJ rejected Plainitff's additional claims that he suffered from low-back and mental-health impairments as well. Id. at 18-19. At Step 3, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically exceeded the severity of a listed impairment in 20 C.F.R. 4040.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526. Id. at 20.

         At step four, the ALJ held that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b), and that Plaintiff could lift/carry up to ten pounds, could sit for an hour before needing a break of three minutes or less to strech. Id. at 20. He retained the ability to remain on task, could occasionally bend and climb stairs and ramps. Id. He could never climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds, but could occasionally reach in all directions. Id.

         The ALJ also found that the Plaintiff's medically determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to cause some of the alleged symptoms; however, his statements concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of these symptoms were not entirely consistent with the medical evidence and other evidence in the record. Id. at 21. As such, the ALJ considered those statements “only ...


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