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Gadd v. Saul

United States District Court, W.D. New York

January 7, 2020




         Before the Court are the parties' respective motions for judgment on the pleadings (Docket Nos. 9 (plaintiff), 11 (defendant Commissioner)). Having considered the Administrative Record, filed as Docket No. 7 (references noted as “[R.___]”), and the papers of both sides, this Court reaches the following decision.


         This is an action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to review the final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security that plaintiff is not disabled and, therefore, is not entitled to disability insurance benefits. The parties consented to proceed before a Magistrate Judge (Docket No. 13, Order of Oct. 4, 2019).


         The plaintiff (“Timothy Gadd” or “plaintiff”) filed an application for disability insurance benefits on March 18, 2014 [R. 23]. That application was denied initially. The plaintiff appeared before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), who considered the case de novo and concluded, in a written decision dated October 11, 2017, that the plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner on September 28, 2018, when the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review.

         Plaintiff commenced this action on November 27, 2018 (Docket No. 1). The parties moved for judgment on the pleadings (Docket Nos. 9, 11), and plaintiff filed a notice of declining to file a reply (Docket No. 12). Upon further consideration, this Court then determined that the motions could be decided on the papers.


         Plaintiff, a 45-year-old on the onset date with a [high school] education, last worked as a heavy equipment operator, later equated by the vocational expert as the DOT title of construction-equipment mechanic (skilled medium word) [R. 31-32]. Plaintiff contends that he was disabled as of the onset date of June 15, 2013 [R. 23]. He had no substantial gainful activity since the June 15, 2013, onset date [R. 25]. Plaintiff claims the following impairments deemed severe by the ALJ: status post left hip replacement and lumbar degenerative disc disease [R. 26]. Plaintiff also claims to suffer from hypertension, but nothing in record showed that it had more than minimal impact on plaintiff's ability to perform basic work activities [R. 26]. He also claims impairment chronic sinus infections, but it was deemed incidental, thus non-severe [R. 26].


         Plaintiff was a heavy equipment operator who developed arthritis in his back, hips, knee, ankles. On October 2013, plaintiff had left hip replacement, herniated disc, remote history of broken left ankle, left foot swelling, chronic sinus infections and high blood pressure. [R. 27, 178.] On plaintiff's Function Report of July 14, 2014, he claimed difficulty with lifting, standing, walking, sitting, climbing stairs, kneeling, and squatting [R. 27, 190-91]. Plaintiff reported he could clean, do laundry, household repairs, limited lawn mowing (for 10-15 minutes, then needing help), and prepare simple meals [R. 27, 187-88]. At the time of the hearing, plaintiff currently worked standing at a bench filling clutch bags for 2-3 hours a day, 5 days a week [R. 28]. This job involved no lifting, had minimal walking and minimal sitting, and he would need to lie down for 3 hours after work [R. 28]. He described his pain generally as 6-7 out of 10, but 7-8 after working [R. 28]. Nurse Practitioner Kathleen Snyder noted in June 2016 that plaintiff was “currently working” [R. 302]. Plaintiff testified that he believed that he could not work a full 8-hour day [R. 57].

         At issue here is the opinion of nurse practitioner Snyder from February 15, 2017 [R. 349-52], and the ALJ's consideration of that opinion [R. 31]. Ms. Snyder concluded that plaintiff could not perform even sedentary work [R. 349-52], that he had a limited range of motion of lumbar spine, decreased strength with stiffness and swelling in ankles, plaintiff can sit for only 2 hours a workday and could never lift more than 10 pounds and never twist, stoop, crouch, or climb ladders [R. 349-50, 31]. The ALJ gave little weight to this opinion, however, finding it was inconsistent with record as a whole including plaintiff's treatment notes from Snyder's practice (e.g., Aug. 30, 2016 [R. 299], normal musculoskeletal findings save low back tenderness, June 22, 2016, showing mild tenderness over left foot and limping gait after recent drop on that foot [R. 296, Pembroke Family Medicine, by Snyder, June 22, 2016, 31]). The ALJ further found that Ms. Snyder's opinion was inconsistent with plaintiff's daily activities, such as lawn mowing and snow shoveling [R. 31, 30].

         The ALJ found that plaintiff had a residual functional capacity to perform light work, but he needed to be allowed to sit or stand at will; he could perform no crawling but he could occasionally bend, stoop, kneel, or crouch, but he should not work at unprotected heights or around dangerous machinery or processes [R. 27].

         The ALJ found that plaintiff was unable to perform past relevant work as a construction equipment operator [R. 32]. With this capacity and the inability to perform plaintiff's past work, the vocational expert opined that a hypothetical claimant like plaintiff was able to perform such occupations as a photocopy machine operator (light exertion work), classifier, laundry (light), or cashier II (light). With an added sit/stand option, the number of jobs in each of these occupations is reduced by one-half but a ...

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