United States District Court, N.D. New York
AID SOCIETY OF NORTHEASTERN NEW YORK MARY MARTHA WITHINGTON,
ESQ., Attorney for Plaintiff
SECURITY ADMINISTRATION Office of the General Counsel DANIEL
STICE TARABELLI, ESQ. Attorney for Defendant
MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER
D'Agostino, U.S. District Judge:
4, 2015, Plaintiff William R. filed an application for
Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). See
Dkt. No. 8, Administrative Transcript ("Tr.") at
126. On October 22, 2015, Plaintiffs claims were initially
denied. Id. at 127-32. Plaintiff made a timely
request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
("ALJ"), who issued an unfavorable decision on
November 1, 2017. See Id. at 25-43. Plaintiff made a
request to review the unfavorable decision, and on October
11, 2018, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiffs request to
review. See Id. at 6-9.
commenced this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 42
U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3) seeking review of the
Commissioner's unfavorable decision. Currently before the
Court are the parties' briefs for judgment on the
pleadings. See Dkt. Nos. 9, 14.
date of birth is April 27, 1973, which made him approximately
forty-two years old at the time he filed for SSI on May 4,
2015. See Tr. at 126. The highest grade in school
that Plaintiff completed was eighth grade. See Id.
at 59. Plaintiff testified that he cannot read or write.
See Id. Plaintiff testified that he is able to do
basic math calculations and can handle money. See
Id. Plaintiff attempted to receive a GED, but failed the
test. Id. at 63. Plaintiff received job training,
specifically automotive training, in 1993. See Id.
worked as an auto mechanic from the age of nineteen until
approximately 2008, which is also the claimed onset date of
disability. See Id. at 57. Plaintiffs work history
indicated that he worked from 2006 until 2008 as an auto
technician at Kost Tire, a battery tester from 2003 to 2004
at Ultralife Battery, and from 2000 until 2004 as a
technician at Jay's Tire. See Id. at 214.
Plaintiff believed that he held only one other job doing
drywall work over twenty years prior. See Id. at 63.
lived alone at the time of the hearing. See Id. at
57. He was receiving temporary assistance from Social
Services and food stamps at the time of the hearing. See
Id. at 60. Plaintiff indicated that he was told by his
doctors not to drive because of limited range of motion in
his neck, though he did have a driver's license at the
time of the hearing. See Id. at 58. Plaintiff stated
he would take Medicab transportation for some appointments,
but for grocery shopping, he drove himself. See Id.
Plaintiff stated that he could walk for no more than five
minutes, could stand for approximately ten minutes, and could
sit for approximately twenty minutes at a time. See
Id. at 67. Plaintiff had particular difficulty with
certain chores, including cleaning his dishes, bending over
to pick up things, and taking the trash out, sometimes
receiving assistance from his neighbors (including on visits
to the grocery store). See Id. at 72.
had cervical surgery in May 2016 and April 2015. Id.
at 796. At Plaintiffs hearing, he described being prevented
from working a full-time job because of "chronic neck
pain, chronic depression, anxiety, constant nausea . . .
." Id. at 59. Plaintiff described having
difficulty going up and down the stairs to his second floor
apartment, which was exacerbated by his right leg
"giv[ing] out because of the problem in my lower
back." Id. at 61. Plaintiff indicated that he
had been prescribed a cane and a walker by a doctor. See
Id. at 66. Plaintiff further indicated that he had
permanent tingling in multiple fingers due to his neck
surgery, which interfered with his ability to lift objects.
See Id. at 62. At the time of the hearing, Plaintiff
stated that he took medication for depression, anxiety,
chronic pain, nausea, and acid reflux. See Id. at
60. As a result of his impairments, Plaintiff claimed that he
was unable to lift and carry more than ten pounds, and if he
tried to lift more, he got a shooting pain down his right
leg. See Id. at 62. Plaintiff described that he
believed that, in terms of preventing his ability to try and
find and keep a job, it was a "tie" between his
mental and physical problems. See Id. at 64.
indicated that his chronic neck pain forced him to sleep in a
recliner. See Id. at 65. Plaintiff sleeps seven to
nine hours an evening due to his medications for depression
and anxiety. See Id. at 59. Plaintiff smokes
approximately one pack of cigarettes a day. See Id.
At the time of the hearing, Plaintiff had been in recovery
for alcohol addiction for approximately three months
"this round," attending Alcoholics Anonymous
meetings two times a week. See id. at 60-61. Since
applying for disability, Plaintiff stated his longest period
of sobriety was ten months. See Id. at 69. At times,
Plaintiff stated he consumed approximately thirty beers per
day. See Id. at 489. Plaintiff stated that his
anxiety resulted in his having "a hard time going out in
public." Id. at 68. Plaintiff indicated his
only hobby was using a radio-controlled car. See Id.
decision dated November 1, 2017, the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff was not disabled under the Social Security Act.
See Id. at 25-43. Plaintiff timely filed a request
for review by the Appeals Council, see Id. at
182-85, and the Appeals Council denied his request for
review, rendering the ALJ's decision the
Commissioner's final decision. See Id. at 6-9.
In his decision, the ALJ found the following: (1) Plaintiff
had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 4,
2015; (2) Plaintiffs severe impairments include degenerative
disc disease of the cervical spine with radiculopathy,
primarily into the left upper extremity, lumbar degenerative
disc disease with radiculopathy and a herniated disc at
¶ 5-S1 on the right, anxiety disorder, panic disorder
with agoraphobia, major depressive disorder, and alcohol use
disorder/alcohol dependence; (3) Plaintiff does not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that meets or
medically equals the severity of one of the listed
impairments; (4) Plaintiff has the residual functional
capacity ("RFC") to perform sedentary work as
defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(a) with limitations to
not standing in excess of thirty minutes at a time, having
the option to reposition or stand at will, minimal
interaction with the public, performance of simple, routine,
and repetitive tasks, and not performing work requiring
constant movement of the head either up or down or left to
right; (5) Plaintiffs RFC renders him not capable of
performing past relevant work; and (6) considering Plaintiffs
age, education, work experience, and RFC, there are jobs that
exist in significant numbers in the national economy that
Plaintiff can perform. See Id. at 30-43.
Accordingly, the ALJ found that Plaintiff is not disabled as
defined in the Social Security Act. See id.
commenced this action for judicial review of the denial of
his claims by the filing of a complaint on December 14, 2018.
See Dkt. No. 1. The parties have filed briefs for
judgment on the pleadings. See Dkt. Nos. 9, 14.
Standard of Review
person is disabled when he is unable "to engage in
substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically
determinable physical or mental impairment which can be
expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be
expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12
months." 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A),
1382c(a)(3)(A). There is a five-step analysis for evaluating
In essence, if the Commissioner determines (1) that the
claimant is not working, (2) that he has a "severe
impairment," (3) that the impairment is not one [listed
in Appendix 1 of the regulations] that conclusively requires
a determination of disability, and (4) that the claimant is
not capable of continuing in his prior type of work, the
Commissioner must find him disabled if (5) there is not
another type of work the claimant can do.
Green-Younger v. Barnhart, 335 F.3d 99, 106 (2d Cir.
2003) (quoting Draegert v. Barnhart, 311 F.3d 468,
472 (2d Cir. 2002)) (other citation omitted). "The
claimant bears the burden of proof on the first four steps,
while the Social Security Administration bears the burden on
the last step." Id. (citation omitted).
reviewing a final decision by the Commissioner under 42
U.S.C. § 405, the Court does not determine de
novo whether a plaintiff is disabled. See 42
U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3); Wagner v.
Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 906 F.2d 856,
860 (2d Cir. 1990). Rather, the Court must examine the
Administrative Transcript to ascertain whether the correct
legal standards were applied, and whether the decision is
supported by substantial evidence. See Shaw v.
Chater, 221 F.3d 126, 131 (2d Cir. 2000);
Schaal v. Apfel, 134 F.3d 496, 501 (2d Cir.
1998). "Substantial evidence" is evidence that
amounts to "more than a mere scintilla," and it has
been defined as "such relevant evidence as a reasonable
mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion."
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971).
supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's
finding must be sustained "even where substantial
evidence may support the plaintiffs position and despite that
the court's independent analysis of the evidence may
differ from the [Commissioner's]." Rosado v.
Sullivan, 805 F.Supp. 147, 153 (S.D.N.Y. 1992) (citing
Rutherford v. Schweiker, 685 F.2d 60, 62 (2d Cir.
1982)) (other citations omitted). In other words, this Court
must afford the Commissioner's determination considerable
deference, and may not substitute "its own judgment for
that of the [Commissioner], even if it might justifiably have
reached a different result upon a de novo review."
Valente v. Sec'y of Health and Human Servs., 733
F.2d 1037, 1041 (2d Cir. 1984) (citation omitted).
first step of the sequential analysis, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since May 4, 2015, the application date. See Tr. at
30. At step two, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had the
following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of
the cervical spine with radiculopathy, primarily into the
left upper extremity, lumbar degenerative disc disease with
radiculopathy and a herniated disc at ¶ 5-S1 on the
right, anxiety disorder, panic disorder with agoraphobia,
major depressive disorder, and alcohol use disorder/alcohol
dependence. See Id. at 30-33. At step three, the ALJ
determined that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that functionally equals the
severity of any impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404,
Subpart P, Appendix 1. See Id. at 33-35. The ALJ
then found that Plaintiff
has the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary
work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(a). Additionally, the
claimant cannot stand in excess of 30 minutes at a time and
must have the option to reposition or stand at will (i.e., a
sit/stand option). The claimant can have minimal (i.e., brief
and superficial) interaction with the public. He can perform
simple, routine, and repetitive tasks. He cannot do work
requiring constant movement of the head either up or down or
left to right.
Id. at 35. At step four, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work.
See Id. at 42. At the fifth and final step of the
analysis, the ALJ solicited the testimony of a vocational
expert. See Id. at 42-43. The vocational expert
testified that a hypothetical individual of Plaintiff s age,
with his education, past relevant work experience, and RFC
(as described above) could perform the representative
occupations of surveillance systems monitor, call out
operator, escort vehicle driver, and possibly a document
preparer. See Id. at 43 The ALJ relied on this
testimony to determine that Plaintiff was not disabled as
defined by the Social Security Act. See Id.
contends that the ALJ's determination denying his
disability application should be remanded back to the
Commissioner for the following reasons: (1) the ALJ did not
consider the cumulative effect of Plaintiff s impairments;
(2) Plaintiff met the criteria for a Listed Impairment under
§ 12.04 depressive, bipolar and related disorders and
§ 12.06 anxiety and obsessive-compulsive
disorders; (3) the RFC is not supported because the
ALJ gave improper weight to Plaintiffs subjective complaints
and failed to engage in the proper analysis under Social
Security Ruling 16-3; (4) the ALJ committed reversible error
in finding the RFC to perform sedentary work in occupations
identified by the vocational expert; and (5) the ALJ's
decision is against the substantial weight of the evidence
and is incorrect as a matter of law. See Dkt. No. 9
Combined Impact of Plaintiffs Impairments
summarily alleges that the ALJ failed to consider the
combined effect of Plaintiffs impairments, particularly
focusing on the combination of physical and mental
impairments, leading to an erroneous decision that Plaintiff
is not impaired. See Dkt. No. 9 at 18-19. This
argument is without merit.
noted the effect of Plaintiff s impairments in combination in
Plaintiffs evaluation. Throughout the ALJ's decision, he
noted that he was, in fact, required to consider Plaintiffs
impairments in combination. See Tr. at 28, 29, 30,
33, 34. At step two, the ALJ discussed a connection between
Plaintiffs alcoholism and his gastritis and pancreatitis.
See Tr. at 32, 673, 687. At step four, the ALJ
further discussed that, at times when Plaintiff was drinking
heavily, it "appears [it] was contributing to his
abdominal pain and nausea." Id. at 40, 687-88.
Again at step four, the ALJ explicitly stated that Plaintiff
"reported taking medication for nausea, which he
associated with anxiety." Id. at 40, 416. The
ALJ further acknowledged that he "considered all
symptoms and the extent to which these symptoms can be
reasonably accepted as consistent with the objective medical
evidence and other evidence." Id. at 35. Thus,
"[w]hen taken together, the ALJ's [complete]
analysis sufficiently assessed the plaintiffs impairments in
combination at several points in his decision. The ALJ also
examined plaintiffs medical records. Accordingly, [the Court]
finds that the ALJ's assessment of the plaintiffs
combination of impairments was sufficient." DeJesus
v. Astrue, No. 3:10-CV-705, 2011 WL 2076447, *3 (D.
Conn. May 26, 2011) (citing Gooch v. Sec'y of Health
& Human Servs., 833 F.3d 589, 591-92 (6th Cir. 1987)
("The ALJ's decision not to reopen [the plaintiffs]
earlier application for disability benefits was made after
'a thorough review of the medical evidence of
record,' and the fact that each element of the record was
discussed individually hardly suggests that the totality of
the record was not considered, particularly in view of the
fact that the ALJ specifically referred to 'a combination
of impairments' in deciding that [the plaintiff] did not
meet the 'listings.'")).
argues that the ALJ erred at step three of the sequential
evaluation. Plaintiff contends that his depression and
anxiety meet the criteria of Listing 12.04 (depressive,
bipolar and related disorders) and Listing 12.06 (anxiety and
obsessive-compulsive disorders), and that this demonstrates
that he was unable to engage in substantial gainful activity.
See Dkt. No. 9 at 19-20. The Court finds this
Listing of Impairments, set forth in Appendix 1 of 20 C.F.R.
Part 404, Subpart P, describes for each of the major body
systems impairments that are considered severe enough to
prevent an individual from performing any gainful activity,
regardless of his or her age, education or work experience.
In order to meet or equal Listing 12.04, Plaintiff had to
show that his depressive, bipolar, or related disorder
satisfied the requirements of paragraphs A and B, or A and C,
as set forth below:
Medical documentation of the requirements of paragraph 1 or
Depressive disorder, characterized by five or ...