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Arcadi v. Saul

United States District Court, W.D. New York

January 7, 2020

FRANK J. ARCADI, Plaintiff,



         Before the Court are the parties' respective motions for judgment on the pleadings (Docket Nos. 11 (plaintiff), 14 (defendant Commissioner)). Having considered the Administrative Record, filed as Docket No. 6 (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 Supplemental Security Income benefits. The parties consented to proceed before a Magistrate Judge (Docket No. 16, Order of Oct. 4, 2019).


         The plaintiff (“Frank Arcadi” or “plaintiff”) filed an application for disability insurance benefits on June 15, 2010 [R. 778, 38]. 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 February 22, 2012, that the plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act [R. 38, 924]. The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner on July 8, 2013, when the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review [R. 1, 918]. Plaintiff then sought judicial review, Arcadi v. Colvin, No. 13CV734. On March 19, 2014, this Court entered judgment consistent with the stipulation to remand this matter, Arcadi, supra, Nos. 14 (Stipulation), 17 (Judgment) [R. 911-12].

         On remand, a second hearing was held on August 20, 2015 [R. 1049]. The second ALJ rendered his decision on November 12, 2015, finding plaintiff was disabled as of March 21, 2014, but not before [R. 944, 967-68]. Exceptions were submitted to the Appeals Council, which, on July 12, 2016, affirmed the second ALJ's decision but remanded to determine plaintiff's eligibility for disability benefits prior to March 21, 2014 [R. 977]. (Docket No. 1, Compl. ¶ 14.) The Appeals Council remanded for the ALJ to determine work-related functional abilities plaintiff can perform (before March 2014) despite his limitations [R. 980; see R. 785]. On September 12, 2017 [R. 855], a third hearing was held but the third ALJ rendered an unfavorable decision on November 21, 2017 [R. 778] (id. ¶ 15). As noted later by the third ALJ [R. 785], the Appeals Council did not take issue with the medical findings of the prior ALJs but focused on the mental assessment [see R. 796]. The third ALJ thus adopted much of the medical findings of his predecessors [R. 788-99]. That ALJ found that plaintiff was not under a disability from June 15, 2010, through March 20, 2014, concluding that the medical record, plaintiff's admissions about his activity level and overall functioning support the finding that he can perform sedentary level of work [R. 799, 801]. Exceptions again were submitted to the Appeals Council, which denied review on May 7, 2018 [R. 762], received by plaintiff on May 21, 2018 (id., Ex. A).

         Plaintiff commenced this action on July 20, 2018 (id.). The parties moved for judgment on the pleadings (Docket Nos. 11, 14), and plaintiff duly replied (Docket No. 15). Upon further consideration, this Court then determined that the motions could be decided on the papers.


         Plaintiff, a 46-year-old at the time of the application with a high school education, last worked as a plumber's helper (heavy level of exertion) and warehouse worker (medium level) [R. 799]. The ALJ found that plaintiff could not perform any past relevant work [R. 799]. He initially contended that he was disabled as of the onset date of June 1, 2009 [R. 38, 778]. Plaintiff claims the following impairments deemed severe by the ALJ: major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, personality disorder, anxiety, chronic kidney disease, left tibia plateau fracture status post total knee replacement, degenerative disc disease of the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar spine, and osteoarthritis of the right knee status post meniscectomy [R. 781]. The ALJ found that plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal listed impairments in the Social Security regulations [R. 781-83]. For the mental health impairments, the third ALJ found that he did not meet the “Paragraph B” criteria for Listings 12.04, 12.06, or 12.08, finding plaintiff had mild limitation in understanding, remembering, or apply information; moderate limitations in interacting with others and with concentrating, persisting, or maintaining pace; and no more than mild limitation in adapting or managing oneself [R. 782-83]. The ALJ also found that plaintiff did not meet “Paragraph C” criteria [R. 783].


         Plaintiff suffered a right ankle fracture in the 1980s, requiring surgery and causing him difficulty ever since [R. 264] (Docket No. 11, Pl. Memo. at 6). He had a right knee injury in 1991 and had surgery to repair a tibial plateau fracture [R. 28, 755] (id.). Plaintiff sought counseling in May to December 2008 for bipolar disorder and depression [R. 301-34] (id.). On July 13, 2011, plaintiff was rear-ended while driving, suffering right knee and ankle injuries [R. 639, 660] (id. at 9). Plaintiff sought medical treatment for these injuries.

         Dr. Baskin examined plaintiff on August 19, 2010, opining that plaintiff had minimal to no limitation in his ability to follow and understand simple directions, perform simple tasks independently, maintain attention and concentration, maintain a regular schedule, learn new tasks, and perform complex tasks with supervision [R. 438, 441, 786].

         At issue here are medical opinions from several treating physicians and how the third ALJ considered them. On September 27, 2010, Dr. Luis Melgar completed an employment assessment finding that plaintiff had functional limitations (very limited in lifting, carrying, pushing, pulling, and bending, and moderate limitations in walking, standing, sitting, climbing stairs) [R. 506-07, 789] (Docket No. 11, Pl. Memo. at 22). The third ALJ gave some weight to this opinion, affording some weight to the mental health portion of the opinion, but giving greater weight to the more limited opinion of consultative examiner Dr. Renee Baskin, Ph.D. [R. 438, 786, 798]. That ALJ found that Dr. Melgar's was “somewhat vaguely articulated” but stated limits generally consistent with a sedentary residual capacity [R. 797].

         Dr. Baskin examined plaintiff on August 19, 2010, and concluded that plaintiff had “minimal to no limitations in his ability to follow and understand simple directions and instructions, perform simple tasks independently, maintain attention and concentration, maintain a regular schedule, learn new tasks, perform complex tasks with supervision. He would have moderate limitations being able to make appropriate decisions, relate adequately with others and appropriately deal with stress” [R. 441, see R. 786]. Dr. Baskin also found that “the results of the present evaluation appear to be consistent with psychiatric problems and this may interfere with the claimant's ability to function on a daily basis. The claimant also appears to be compromised by lack of involvement in any type of consistent counseling” [R. 441, see R. 786]. The third ALJ considered Dr. Baskin's opinion and gave it great weight deeming it consistent with the overall record [R. 797].

         In January 2012, plaintiff was treated by Dr. Cheryle Hart and the doctor made an employment assessment [R. 643, 791] and found that plaintiff was permanently disabled due to knee pain, bipolar disorder, and anxiety [R. 643] (see Docket No. 11, Pl. Memo. at 12-13, 21). She found that plaintiff was moderately limited in maintaining socially appropriate behavior without exhibiting behavior extremes but the doctor was unable to assess plaintiff's ability to function in a work setting at a consistent pace [R. 644, 791]. The ALJ then gave this opinion some weight because (like ...

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