Reddick II v. Commissioner of Social Security
MEMORANDUM-DECISION and ORDER - That the decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED and Reddick's complaint (Dkt. No. 1) is DISMISSED. Signed by Chief Judge Gary L. Sharpe on 3/19/2014. (jel, )
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
WILLIAM H. REDDICK II,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL
FOR THE PLAINTIFF:
William H. Reddick II
Mid-State Correctional Facility
P.O. Box 2500
Marcy, NY 13403
FOR THE DEFENDANT:
HON. RICHARD S. HARTUNIAN
United States Attorney
100 South Clinton Street
Syracuse, NY 13261
Steven P. Conte
Regional Chief Counsel
Social Security Administration
Office of General Counsel, Region II
26 Federal Plaza, Room 3904
New York, NY 10278
Gary L. Sharpe
SANDRA M. GROSSFELD
Special Assistant U.S. Attorney
MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER
Plaintiff pro se William H. Reddick II challenges the Commissioner of
Social Security’s denial of Supplemental Security Income (SSI), seeking
judicial review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (Compl., Dkt. No. 1.) After
reviewing the administrative record and carefully considering Reddick’s
arguments, the court affirms the Commissioner’s decision and dismisses
On May 31, 2005, Reddick filed an application for SSI under the
Social Security Act (“the Act”), alleging disability since May 15, 2000. (Tr.1
at 39, 116-18.) After his application was denied, (id. at 57-60), Reddick
requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), (id. at 6162). A hearing was held on April 16, 2007, which was adjourned in order to
allow Reddick to obtain representation, (id. at 981-91), and after a
subsequent hearing on June 12, 2007, (id. at 948-80), the ALJ issued a
decision on February 14, 2008 denying the requested benefits, (id. at 401
Page references preceded by “Tr.” are to the Administrative Transcript. (Dkt. No. 17.)
56). On review, the Appeals Council vacated the ALJ’s decision and
remanded the claim for further proceedings. (Id. at 86-88.) A
supplemental hearing was held on January 20, 2011. (Id. at 82, 927-47).
On March 9, 2011, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision denying the
requested benefits, which became the Commissioner’s final determination
upon the Appeals Council’s denial of review. (Id. at 9-12, 17-36.)
Reddick commenced the present action by filing his complaint on
January 2, 2013 wherein he sought review of the Commissioner’s
determination. (Compl.) The Commissioner filed an answer and a certified
copy of the administrative transcript. (Dkt. Nos. 14, 17.) Each party,
seeking judgment on the pleadings, filed a brief. (Dkt. Nos. 20, 21.)
Reddick contends that the Commissioner’s decision is tainted by
legal error and is not supported by substantial evidence.2 (Dkt. No. 20 at
1-11.) Specifically, Reddick argues that the ALJ: (1) improperly evaluated
The court notes that Reddick’s brief consists almost entirely of vague and conclusory
assertions without specific reference to the portion of the record relied upon and citations to
the relevant statutes, regulations, and cases supporting his position, (see generally Dkt. No.
20), as required by General Order 18. In any event, because of Reddick’s pro se status, the
court has reviewed the ALJ’s determination to ensure that it is supported by substantial
evidence and that the correct legal standards were applied, in light of the general issues raised
by Reddick in his brief.
his substance abuse; (2) incorrectly determined that his impairments did
not meet a listed impairment; (3) erred in determining his residual
functional capacity (RFC) by improperly weighing the record evidence; (4)
incorrectly evaluated his credibility; and (5) improperly relied on the
Medical-Vocational Guidelines. (Id.) The Commissioner counters that the
appropriate legal standards were used by the ALJ and her decision is also
supported by substantial evidence. (Dkt. No. 21 at 7-19.)
The court adopts the parties’ undisputed factual recitations. (Dkt.
No. 20 at 9-11; Dkt. No. 21 at 1-2.)
V. Standard of Review
The standard for reviewing the Commissioner’s final decision under
42 U.S.C. § 405(g)3 is well established and will not be repeated here. For
a full discussion of the standard and the five-step process by which the
Commissioner evaluates whether a claimant is disabled under the Act, the
court refers the parties to its previous decision in Christiana v. Comm’r of
Soc. Sec. Admin., No. 1:05-CV-932, 2008 WL 759076, at *1-2 (N.D.N.Y.
42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3) renders section 405(g) applicable to judicial review of SSI
Mar. 19, 2008).
Materiality of Substance Use
Reddick first argues that “substantial evidence did not support [the]
ALJ’s determination that [Reddick]’s drug and alcohol use was a material
contributing factor to his disability.” (Dkt. No. 20 at 2.) The Commissioner
responds that the ALJ found that in the absence of his substance abuse,
Reddick would not be disabled within the meaning of the Act, and that this
finding was supported by substantial evidence. (Dkt. No. 21 at 12-16.)
The court agrees with the Commissioner that substantial evidence
supports the ALJ’s conclusion.
The Act, as amended in 1996, states that “an individual shall not be
considered to be disabled . . . if alcoholism or drug addiction would . . . be
a contributing factor material to the Commissioner’s determination that the
individual is disabled.” Mims v. Apfel, 182 F.3d 900, 1999 WL 376840, at
*1 (2d Cir. 1999) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).
Accordingly, if the ALJ finds that the claimant is disabled utilizing the
standard sequential analysis, and there is medical evidence of the
claimant’s drug addiction or alcoholism, the ALJ must then determine
“whether [the ALJ] would still find [the claimant] disabled if [he] stopped
using drugs or alcohol.” 20 C.F.R. § 416.935(a), (b)(1). In making this
determination, the ALJ must evaluate which of the claimant’s limitations
would remain if he stopped using drugs or alcohol, and then determine
whether any or all of the remaining limitations would be disabling. See id.
In her decision, the ALJ found that Reddick was “under a disability,
but that a substance use disorder is a contributing factor material to the
determination of disability,” and, therefore, Reddick was not disabled under
the meaning of the Act and not entitled to benefits. (Tr. at 21.)
Specifically, the ALJ noted that if Reddick stopped his substance use, he
would be able to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels and
understand, carry out, and remember simple instructions, respond
appropriately to supervision, and deal with changes in a routine work
setting. (Id. at 31.)
Notably, the ALJ referred to Reddick’s own statements that every
time he encountered legal issues he was using drugs or alcohol. (Id. at 32,
503.) Additionally, the ALJ pointed as a reference to the time period when
Reddick was incarcerated and therefore not using drugs or alcohol. (Id. at
32-33.) During that time, Reddick had no disciplinary issues or
documented problems following instructions, and was able to hold jobs.
(Id. at 32-33, 137, 244.) More importantly, even after he had been
released from prison, during times when Reddick denied current drug or
alcohol use, he was able to follow and understand simple directions and
maintain attention and concentration. (Id. at 33, 465-69.) Reddick also
acknowledged on several occasions that his substance use affected his
mental health. (Id. at 503, 787, 789.) Reddick stated that he is “fine when
he is not using.” (Id. at 503.)
In light of the foregoing, the court finds that the ALJ’s finding that
drug and alcohol abuse and dependency was a contributing factor material
to the disability determination was supported by substantial evidence. The
record strongly indicates that Reddick’s functioning improves significantly
when he abstains from drugs and alcohol and complies with treatment, to
the point where he is able to function with minimal limitation.
Next, Reddick contends that the ALJ erred in finding that Reddick did
not have an impairment or combination of impairments which meet or
medically equal listed impairments. (Dkt. No. 20 at 6-7.) The
Commissioner counters that Reddick did not meet his burden of showing
that his impairments met a listed impairment. (Dkt. No. 21 at 7-10.) The
court agrees with the Commissioner.
If a claimant’s “impairment(s) meets or equals a listed impairment”
and “meets the duration requirement,” he will be found disabled. 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.920(d). In order to qualify for listing severity, the claimant must show
that he meets all the requirements of the listing consistently. See Evans v.
Astrue, No. 12-CV-6002, 2012 WL 6204219, at *3-4 (W.D.N.Y. Dec.12,
In order to satisfy the “paragraph B” criteria of the listings claimed by
Reddick, a claimant’s impairment(s) must result in at least two of the
following: (1) marked restriction of activities of daily living; (2) marked
difficulties in maintaining social functioning; (3) marked difficulties in
maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace; and (4) repeated episodes
of decompensation, each of extended duration. See 20 C.F.R. pt. 404,
subpt. P, app. 1 §§ 12.04, 12.06, 12.08.
Here, the ALJ determined that, if Reddick stopped his substance
use, he would not have an impairment or combination of impairments that
met or medically equaled any of the impairments listed in the regulations.
(Tr. at 30-31.) Specifically, the ALJ found that Reddick’s mental
impairments, including his substance use disorder, did not meet any of the
listed mental impairments because he had marked difficulties in social
functioning, but no restriction in activities of daily living, no difficulties with
concentration, persistence, or pace, and only one to two episodes of
decompensation, but neither of conclusively extended duration. (Id. at 2627.) The ALJ further found that if Reddick stopped his substance use, he
would only have moderate difficulties in social functioning, and no episodes
of decompensation. (Id. at 30-31.) Notably, as the ALJ pointed out, “[t]he
record did not evidence any periods of decompensation when the claimant
was abstaining from substance abuse.” (Id. at 31.) Therefore, he was
unable to prove that his impairments satisfied the “paragraph B” criteria of
any listed impairments. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(d). Accordingly, the
court affirms the ALJ’s step three determination that if Reddick stopped his
substance use, he would not have an impairment that met any of the
impairment listings. (Tr. at 30-31.)
With respect to the ALJ’s RFC determination, Reddick argues that
the ALJ improperly evaluated the opinion evidence. (Dkt. No. 20 at 1-4, 6.)
Specifically, Reddick contends that the opinions of his treating physicians,
Drs. Edgar Stanley and Paula Zebrowski, should have been given
controlling weight. (Id. at 11-12.) The Commissioner asserts that the ALJ
properly gave these opinions limited weight because they opined on
ultimate determinations that are reserved to the Commissioner, they were
inconsistent with other evidence of record, and the ALJ gave good reasons
for rejecting them. (Dkt. No. 21 at 10-12.) The court agrees with the
A claimant’s RFC “is the most [he] can still do despite [his]
limitations.” 20 C.F.R. § 416.945(a)(1). In assessing a claimant’s RFC, an
ALJ must consider “all of the relevant medical and other evidence,”
including a claimant’s subjective complaints of pain. Id. § 416.945(a)(3).
An ALJ’s RFC determination must be supported by substantial evidence4 in
the record. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). If it is, that determination is
conclusive and must be affirmed upon judicial review. See id.; Perez v.
Chater, 77 F.3d 41, 46 (2d Cir. 1996).
Controlling weight will be given to a treating source’s opinion on the
“Substantial evidence is defined as more than a mere scintilla. It means such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept to support a conclusion.” Alston v.
Sullivan, 904 F.2d 122, 126 (2d Cir. 1990) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).
nature and severity of a claimant’s impairments where it is “well-supported
by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques and
is not inconsistent with the other substantial evidence.” 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.927(c)(2); see Halloran v. Barnhart, 362 F.3d 28, 32 (2d Cir. 2004).
When a treating source’s opinion is given less than controlling weight, the
ALJ is required to consider the following factors: the length, nature and
extent of the treatment relationship; the frequency of examination;
evidentiary support offered; consistency with the record as a whole; and
specialization of the examiner. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(c)(2)-(6). The
ALJ must provide “good reasons for the weight given to the treating
source’s opinion.” Petrie v. Astrue, 412 F. App’x 401, 407 (2d Cir. 2011)
(internal quotation marks and citations omitted). “Nevertheless, where the
evidence of record permits [the court] to glean the rationale of an ALJ’s
decision,” it is not necessary that the ALJ “have mentioned every item of
testimony presented to him or have explained why he considered particular
evidence unpersuasive or insufficient to lead him to a conclusion of
disability.” Id. (internal quotations and citation omitted).
Here, the ALJ gave only “limited weight” to the opinion of Dr. Stanley.
(Tr. at 28.) Dr. Stanley excused Reddick from work for approximately six
months due to neck pain reported by Reddick, (id. at 534), but the ALJ
gave Dr. Stanley’s opinion that Reddick was unable to work for that period
only limited weight because Dr. Stanley’s examinations of Reddick were
essentially normal, and Reddick reported returning to build houses only
three days later, (id. at 28, 518, 534, 860).
In addition, the ALJ gave only “limited weight” to Dr. Zebrowski’s
opinion that Reddick had marked limitations in his ability to deal with work
stress and maintain attention and concentration, (id. at 29, 32, 857),
because the ALJ noted that this opinion was Dr. Zebrowski’s “best
estimate based on extremely limited time working with [Reddick],” and in
fact she had only seen Reddick on one occasion. (Id. at 857-58.) Further,
her later opinion that Reddick was capable of no employment activities was
on an issue reserved to the Commissioner, and therefore considered, but
not given any special weight. (Id. at 29, 494); see 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(d).
Because these opinions regarding the severity of Reddick’s
limitations were inconsistent with substantial evidence of record, the ALJ
did not err in giving them less than controlling weight. (Id. at 33-35); see
20 C.F.R. § 416.927(c)(4). In sum, the weight afforded to the various
opinions by the ALJ, for reasons which are fully articulated in her written
decision, is supported by substantial evidence. (Id. at 27-29, 31-35.) The
ALJ also undertook a thorough discussion of the medical and testimonial
evidence of record, which indicates that Reddick can perform a full range
of unskilled work at all exertional levels. (Id.) As such, the court affirms
the ALJ’s RFC determination.
Reddick next argues that the ALJ improperly evaluated his credibility.
(Dkt. No. 20 at 1, 6.) As to this argument, Reddick simply states that “[t]he
ALJ’s credibility determination was necessarily flawed,” and that the ALJ
improperly rejected Reddick’s testimony regarding his limitations. (Id.)
The court disagrees.
Once the ALJ determines that the claimant suffers from a “medically
determinable impairment that could reasonably be expected to produce
the [symptoms] alleged,” she “must evaluate the intensity and persistence
of those symptoms considering all of the available evidence; and, to the
extent that the claimant’s [subjective] contentions are not substantiated by
the objective medical evidence, the ALJ must engage in a credibility
inquiry.” Meadors v. Astrue, 370 F. App’x 179, 183 (2d Cir. 2010) (internal
quotation marks and citations omitted). In performing this analysis, the
ALJ “must consider the entire case record and give specific reasons for the
weight given to the [claimant’s] statements.” SSR 96-7p, 61 Fed. Reg.
34,483, 34,485 (July 2, 1996). Specifically, in addition to the objective
medical evidence, the ALJ must consider the following factors: “1) daily
activities; 2) location, duration, frequency and intensity of any symptoms; 3)
precipitating and aggravating factors; 4) type, dosage, effectiveness, and
side effects of any medications taken; 5) other treatment received; and 6)
other measures taken to relieve symptoms.” F.S. v. Astrue, No. 1:10-CV444, 2012 WL 514944, at *19 (N.D.N.Y. Feb. 15, 2012) (citing 20 C.F.R.
Here, the ALJ determined that Reddick’s medically determinable
impairments could reasonably be expected to produce the alleged
symptoms, but that Reddick’s claims regarding the intensity, persistence,
and limiting effects of his symptoms were not credible. (Tr. at 35.) In
particular, the ALJ found that Reddick’s allegations “were not supported by
his clinical findings and were inconsistent with his activities, compliance
issues, and improvement with medication.” (Id.) This credibility
determination is amply supported, and it reflects a fair application of the
Despite Reddick’s claims that he had trouble getting along with
others, had difficulty focusing for long periods, felt depressed, isolated, and
nervous, and had difficulty sleeping, (see, e.g., id. at 146, 147, 150), the
record is replete with contradictory evidence. For example, the record
demonstrates that Reddick was able to complete many daily activities,
such as attending church, going grocery shopping and preparing meals,
performing household repairs, and maintaining his personal hygeine. (Id.
at 147, 148, 149.) In addition, records show that Reddick’s mood improved
with treatment and medication, which Reddick himself acknowledged, (id.
at 244, 706, 720, 835), he was able to work independently, (id. at 245), and
he could maintain regular sleep and an “interest in life,” (id. at 835).
Moreover, it is clear that the ALJ appropriately considered the factors set
forth in 20 C.F.R. § 416.929(c)(3) by her specific reference to § 416.929,
and discussion of Reddick’s daily activities, the intensity of his symptoms,
and his response to medications and treatment. (Id. at 31-35.)
Step Five Determination
Lastly, Reddick contends that the ALJ’s reliance on the Medical-
Vocational Guidelines in determining his vocational ability was improper.
(Dkt. No. 20 at 2, 4-5.) The Commissioner responds that the ALJ’s
reliance on the Medical-Vocational Guidelines to determine that Reddick
could perform other work was appropriate. (Dkt. No. 21 at 18-19.) The
court agrees with the Commissioner.
Initially, the Regulations provide that the “mental activities . . .
generally required by competitive, remunerative, unskilled work [include
u]nderstanding, remembering, and carrying out simple instructions[;
m]aking judgments that are commensurate with the functions of unskilled
work—i.e., simple work-related decisions[; r]esponding appropriately to
supervision, co-workers and usual work situations[; and d]ealing with
changes in a routine work setting.” SSR 96-9p, 61 Fed. Reg. 34,478,
34,483 (July 2,1996); see 20 C.F.R. § 416.921(b)(3)-(6). Moreover, in
making a step five ruling, an ALJ may rely on the Medical-Vocational
Guidelines found in 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 2, as long as the
claimant’s age, education, work experience, and RFC coincide with the
criteria of a rule contained in those Guidelines. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.969;
see also Calabrese v. Astrue, 358 F. App’x 274, 275 n.1 (2d Cir. 2009).
However, when a claimant’s nonexertional impairments “significantly limit
the range of work permitted by his exertional limitations,” the
Commissioner “must introduce the testimony of a vocational expert (or
other similar evidence) that jobs exist in the economy which claimant can
obtain and perform.” Bapp v. Bowen, 802 F.2d 601, 603, 605 (2d Cir.
Reddick argues that the ALJ’s reliance on the grid guidelines “was
improper” and that “[s]ubstantial evidence did not support [the] ALJ’s
finding that there were a significant number of jobs in the economy that
[Reddick] could perform.” (Dkt. No. 20 at 2, 4-5.) Despite Reddick’s
impairment, the ALJ found that, “if [Reddick] stopped the substance abuse
he would have no significant limitations in the performance of . . . basic
mental demands of work.” (Tr. at 36.) This conclusion was supported by
substantial record evidence, namely the opinion of Dr. Kristen Barry,
consultative examiner, who opined that Reddick was “able to follow and
understand simple directions and instructions . . . [and] able to maintain his
attention and concentration,” (Id. at 33, 468.) The ALJ gave Dr. Barry’s
opinion “some weight” because it was based on a one-time examination.
(Id. at 33.) However, the ALJ also noted the opinion of a state medical
consultant, who opined that Reddick retained the ability, with no significant
limitations, to understand, remember, and carry out detailed instructions, to
maintain attention and concentration for extended periods, to maintain a
routine without special supervision, and to make simple work-related
decisions. (Id. at 33, 484-85). The ALJ gave this opinion “significant
weight,” although the reviewing psychologist did not personally examine
Reddick, because the psychologist reviewed Reddick’s records and
“rendered an opinion that was consistent with the evidence of record.” (Id.
Thus, after noting the mental abilities required for unskilled work and
concluding that the evidence establishes that Reddick has no significant
limitations in the performance of these basic mental demands of work, the
ALJ applied the grid guidelines and found Reddick not disabled because
there would be a significant number of jobs in the national economy that
Reddick could perform. (Id. at 35-36); see SSR 83-10, 1983 WL 31251, at
*3 (1983) (explaining that the rules contained in the grid guidelines “reflect
the presence of nonexertional capabilities sufficient to perform unskilled
work at the pertinent exertional levels”). As the ALJ determined—with the
support of substantial evidence—that Reddick’s nonexertional impairments
did not “‘significantly limit the range of work permitted by his exertional
limitations,’” consultation with a vocational expert was not required. Bapp,
802 F.2d at 605 (quoting Blacknall v. Heckler, 721 F.2d 1179, 1181 (9th
Cir. 1983)); see SSR 83-14, 1983 WL 31254, at *4-5 (1983); SSR 85-15,
1985 WL 56857, at *7-8 (1985).
Remaining Findings and Conclusions
After careful review of the record, the court affirms the remainder of
the ALJ’s decision as it correctly applies the relevant legal standards and is
supported by substantial evidence.
WHEREFORE, for the foregoing reasons, it is hereby
ORDERED that the decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED and
Reddick’s complaint (Dkt. No. 1) is DISMISSED; and it is further
ORDERED that the Clerk close this case and provide a copy of this
Memorandum-Decision and Order to the parties.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
March 19, 2014
Albany, New York
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