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Lovejoy v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, W.D. New York

January 15, 2020

JEFFERY JOHN LOVEJOY, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          DECISION & ORDER

          LAWRENCE J. VILARDO UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         On June 29, 2018, the plaintiff, Jeffery John Lovejoy, brought this action under the Social Security Act (“the Act”). He seeks review of the determination by the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) that he was not disabled. Docket Item 1. On December 28, 2018, Lovejoy moved for judgment on the pleadings, Docket Item 7; on February 26, 2019, the Commissioner responded and cross-moved for judgment on the pleadings, Docket Item 11; and on March 19, 2019, Lovejoy replied, Docket Item 12.

         For the reasons stated below, this Court grants Lovejoy's motion in part and denies the Commissioner's cross-motion.

         BACKGROUND

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On February 5, 2015, Lovejoy applied for Disability Insurance Benefits. Docket Item 6 at 80. He claimed that he had been disabled since April 30, 2007, due to a “[b]roken right foot, ” “[i]njuries due to a fall, ” and “[i]njuries [to his] left shoulder.” Id.

         On May 11, 2015, Lovejoy received notice that his application was denied because he was not disabled under the Act. Id. at 79. He requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), id. at 86, which was held on February 15, 2017, id. at 28. The ALJ then issued a decision on May 2, 2017, confirming the finding that Lovejoy was not disabled. Id. at 14-23. Lovejoy appealed the ALJ's decision, but his appeal was denied, and the decision then became final. Id. at 4.

         II. THE ALJ'S DECISION

         In denying Lovejoy's application, the ALJ evaluated Lovejoy's claim under the Social Security Administration's five-step evaluation process for disability determinations. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. At the first step, the ALJ determines whether the claimant currently is engaged in substantial gainful employment. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i). If so, the claimant is not disabled. Id. If not, the ALJ proceeds to step two. § 404.1520(a)(4).

         At step two, the ALJ decides whether the claimant is suffering from any severe impairments. § 404.1520(a)(4)(ii). If there are no severe impairments, the claimant is not disabled. Id. If there are any severe impairments, the ALJ proceeds to step three. § 404.1520(a)(4).

         At step three, the ALJ determines whether any severe impairment or combination of impairments meets or equals an impairment listed in the regulations. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii). If the claimant's severe impairment or combination of impairments meets or equals one listed in the regulations, the claimant is disabled. Id. But if the ALJ finds that no severe impairment or combination of impairments meets or equals any in the regulations, the ALJ proceeds to step four. § 404.1520(a)(4).

         As part of step four, the ALJ first determines the claimant's residual functional capacity (“RFC”). See §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv); 404.1520(d)-(e). The RFC is a holistic assessment of the claimant-addressing both severe and non-severe medical impairments-that evaluates whether the claimant can perform past relevant work or other work in the national economy. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545.

         After determining the claimant's RFC, the ALJ completes step four. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e). If the claimant can perform past relevant work, he or she is not disabled and the analysis ends. § 404.1520(f). But if the claimant cannot, the ALJ proceeds to step five. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv); 404.1520(f).

         In the fifth and final step, the Commissioner must present evidence showing that the claimant is not disabled because the claimant is physically and mentally capable of adjusting to an alternative job. See Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(v), (g). More specifically, the Commissioner bears the burden of proving that the claimant “retains a residual functional capacity to perform ...


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