United States District Court, W.D. New York
DECISION AND ORDER
G. LARIMER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Shawna McNaughton (“McNaughton”) brings this
action pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act
(the “Act”), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking
judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of
Social Security (the “Commissioner”) denying her
application for disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”) and supplemental security income
(“SSI”). (Dkt. # 1).
December 30, 2014, McNaughton protectively filed an
application for a period of disability and DIB and for SSI,
alleging disability beginning on August 22, 2011. (Tr. 68,
69, 70, 82). On April 17, 2015, the Social Security
Administration denied McNaughton's applications, finding
that she was not disabled. (Tr. 94-101). McNaughton requested
and was granted a hearing before an administrative law judge.
(Tr. 105-18). Administrative Law Judge Paul Greenberg (the
“ALJ”) conducted the hearing on April 18, 2017,
at which McNaughton and vocational expert Dian L. Haller (the
“VE”) testified. (Tr. 33-67). In a decision dated
June 16, 2017, the ALJ found that McNaughton was not disabled
and was not entitled to benefits. (Tr. 13-28). On July 12,
2018, the Appeals Council denied McNaughton's request for
a review of the ALJ's decision, making the
Commissioner's decision final. (Tr. 1-6). McNaughton then
commenced this action on September 14, 2018, seeking review
of the Commissioner's decision. (Dkt. # 1).
before the Court are the parties' motions for judgment on
the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of
Civil Procedure. (Dkt. ## 10; 13). For the reasons set forth
below, McNaughton's motion (Dkt. # 10) is denied, and the
Commissioner's cross motion (Dkt. # 13), is granted.
McNaughton's Complaint (Dkt. # 1), therefore, is
dismissed with prejudice.
of whether a claimant is disabled within the meaning of the
Act follows a well-known five-step sequential evaluation,
familiarity with which is presumed. See Bowen v. City of
New York, 476 U.S. 467, 470-71 (1986); see also
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. The
Commissioner's decision that a plaintiff is not disabled
must be affirmed if it is supported by substantial evidence,
and if the ALJ applied the correct legal standards.
See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Machadio v.
Apfel, 276 F.3d 103, 108 (2d Cir. 2002).
The ALJ's Decision
case, the ALJ applied the sequential analysis. At step one,
the ALJ found that McNaughton had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since August 22, 2011 - the alleged onset
date. (Tr. 15). At step two, the ALJ found that McNaughton
had the following severe impairments: degenerative disc
disease and bipolar disorder, alternatively referred to as
depressive disorder or as borderline personality disorder.
(Id.). At step three, the ALJ found that such
impairments, alone or in combination, did not meet or medical
equal a listed impairment in Appendix 1 to Subpart P of Part
404 of the relevant regulations. (Tr. 16).
the ALJ determined that McNaughton retained the RFC to
perform light work, except with the following additional
limitations: occasional kneeling, crouching, crawling, and
climbing of ramps and stairs; no climbing ladders, ropes, or
scaffolds; the ability to sit for five minutes after standing
for 25 minutes, or stand for five minutes after sitting for
25 minutes, but she could continue to work in either
position; frequent reaching with the bilateral upper
extremities; and frequent interaction with co-workers as part
of a job, and occasional in-person interaction with the
public, but was not limited in interactions with the public
via the telephone. (Tr. 17).
four, based on the VE's testimony, the ALJ found that
McNaughton had past work experience as a telemarketer (DOT #
299.357-014), which was sedentary work, and as a certified
nurse assistant (“CNA”) (DOT # 355.674-014),
which was medium work. (Tr. 22). The ALJ adopted the VE's
testimony that McNaughton was capable of performing her past
relevant work as a telemarketer. (Id.).
such a finding rendered McNaughton not disabled under the
Act, the ALJ proceeded to make the alternative finding, at
step five, that McNaughton could perform other work that
existed in significant numbers in the national economy based
on her age, education, work experience, and RFC.
(Id.). Specifically, based on the VE's
testimony, the ALJ found that McNaughton could also perform
the jobs of inspector of plastic products (DOT #
599.687-074), assembler of electronic parts (DOT #
729.684-054), and assembler of plastic products (DOT #
712.687-010), all of which were light, unskilled work with a
specific vocational preparation (“SVP”) level of
2. (Tr. 23). Therefore, based on the ALJ's findings, he
found that McNaughton was not disabled under the Act. (Tr.
contends that the ALJ's determination that she is not
disabled is not supported by substantial evidence and is the
product of legal error. (Dkt. # 10). McNaughton principally
takes issue with the ALJ's consideration of certain
medical evidence related to her physical
impairments. Specifically, McNaughton contends that the
ALJ failed: (1) to evaluate the opinion from treating
orthopedic surgeon Cameron Huckell (“Huckell”),
M.D.; (2) to properly evaluate the opinion of treating pain
management specialist Bernard Beaupin
(“Beaupin”), M.D.; (3) to properly evaluate the
opinion of treating pain management specialist Romanth
Waghmarae (“Waghmarae”), M.D.; and (4) to address
the opinion of independent medical examiner Frank Luzi
(“Luzi”), M.D. (Dkt. # 10-1 at 20-30). McNaughton
also maintains that the ALJ's RFC determination is not
supported by substantial evidence because he failed to
account for any limitations related to McNaughton's
restricted ability to bend and twist her neck, as opined by
Luzi. (Id. at 30-31).
considering these arguments and reviewing the record
evidence, I believe the evidence supports the ALJ's
findings concerning the nature and extent of McNaughton's
limitations, and that his finding that McNaughton is not
disabled is supported by substantial evidence and was not the
product of legal error.
Dr. Huckell's Opinion
first argues that the ALJ did not weigh Huckell's
permanency evaluation of McNaughton in accordance with the
treating physician rule, which Huckell completed on September
15, 2015, for purposes of McNaughton's New York State
Workers' Compensation claim. (Dkt. # 10-1 at 20-25).
McNaughton also contends that the ALJ did not evaluate
Huckell's opinions throughout his treatment notes