Kanasola v. Commissioner of Social Security
DECISION & ORDER that pltf's motion for judgment on the pleading is DENIED; Deft's motion for judgment on the pleadings is GRANTED; that Deft's decision denying disability benefits is AFFIRMED; and pltf's complaint is DISMISSED. Signed by Magistrate Judge Therese Wiley Dancks on 5/10/2017. (see)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
COMM’R OF SOC. SEC.,
LAW OFFICES OF STEVEN R. DOLSON
Counsel for Plaintiff
126 North Salina Street, Suite 3B
Syracuse, NY 13202
STEVEN R. DOLSON, ESQ.
U.S. SOCIAL SECURITY ADMIN.
OFFICE OF REG’L GEN. COUNSEL – REGION II
Counsel for Defendant
26 Federal Plaza, Room 3904
New York, NY 10278
LAUREN E. MYERS, ESQ.
THÉRÈSE WILEY DANCKS, United States Magistrate Judge
DECISION and ORDER
Currently before the Court, in this Social Security action filed by John Kanasola
(“Plaintiff”) against the Commissioner of Social Security (“Defendant” or “the Commissioner”)
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), are Plaintiff’s motion for judgment on the
pleadings and Defendant’s motion for judgment on the pleadings. (Dkt. Nos. 9, 11.) For the
reasons set forth below, Plaintiff’s motion for judgment on the pleadings is denied and
Defendant’s motion for judgment on the pleadings is granted. The Commissioner’s decision
denying Plaintiff’s disability benefits is affirmed, and Plaintiff’s Complaint is dismissed.
Plaintiff was born in 1975, making him 37 years old at the amended alleged onset date
and 39 years old at the date of the final Social Security Administration (“SSA”) decision.
Plaintiff has a 12th grade education and past work as an auto and truck mechanic. Plaintiff was
insured for disability benefits under Title II until December 31, 2012. Generally, Plaintiff
alleges disability consisting of knee pain, back pain, and bilateral hand pain.
Plaintiff applied for Title II Disability Insurance Benefits and Title XVI Supplemental
Security Income on April 25, 2013. Plaintiff initially alleged disability beginning January 1,
2008, but later amended the alleged onset date to April 9, 2013. 1 Plaintiff’s application was
initially denied on June 26, 2013, after which he timely requested a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). Plaintiff appeared at a video hearing before ALJ Hortensia
Haaversen on April 17, 2014. On October 15, 2014, the ALJ issued a written decision finding
Plaintiff not disabled under the Social Security Act. (T. 13-21.) 2 On January 20, 2016, the
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff’s request for review, making the ALJ’s decision the final
decision of the Commissioner. (T. 1-4.)
As the ALJ noted, Plaintiff’s amended alleged onset date was after his date last insured of
December 31, 2012, making the ALJ’s dismissal of Plaintiff’s Title II application proper. See
HALLEX I-3-5-85 (instructing that an ALJ is permitted to dismiss certain issues in a case in
certain circumstances, explicitly including when “the claimant withdrew the [T]itle II request for
hearing and amended the alleged onset date after the date last insured”).
The Administrative Transcript is found at Dkt. No. 8. Citations to the Administrative
Transcript will be referenced as “T.” and the Bates-stamped page numbers as set forth therein
will be used rather than the page numbers assigned by the Court’s CM/ECF electronic filing
The ALJ’s Decision
Generally, in her decision, the ALJ made the following six findings of fact and
conclusions of law. (T. 13-21.) First, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since April 25, 2013, the amended alleged onset date. (T. 15.) Second, the ALJ
found that Plaintiff’s bilateral chondromalacia patellae, degenerative signal medial meniscus of
the right knee, degenerative changes of the lumbosacral spine, and acute gout are severe
impairments, while his chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, hyperlipidemia, gastritis, and
obesity are not severe. (T. 15-16.) Third, the ALJ found that Plaintiff’s severe impairments do
not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. § 404, Subpart P, App. 1
(the “Listings”). (T. 16.) More specifically, the ALJ considered Listing 1.02 (major dysfunction
of a joint) and 1.04 (spinal impairments). (Id.) Fourth, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform
light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b) except that the claimant
can stand or walk for two hours in an eight-hour workday. The
claimant can sit for at least six hours of an eight-hour workday, but
for no more than an hour at a time.
(T. 16.) Fifth, the ALJ found that Plaintiff is unable to perform his past work based on the
restrictions in the RFC. (T. 19.) Sixth, and finally, the ALJ determined that there are jobs that
exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform, including
telephone order clerk for a food and beverage establishment, dispatcher, and telephone
answering service. (T. 20-21.)
The Parties’ Briefings on Their Cross-Motions
Generally, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ committed harmful error of law in failing to
afford controlling weight to the opinion of treating physician Richard Sullivan, M.D. (Dkt. No.
9, at 6-8 [Pl. Mem. of Law].) Plaintiff argues that Dr. Sullivan’s opinion is “well-supported by
medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques,” including the objective
imaging reports and his own treatment observations. (Dkt. No. 9, at 6-7 [Pl. Mem. of Law].)
Plaintiff also argues that, even if Dr. Sullivan’s opinion is not entitled to controlling weight, the
ALJ erred in failing to “explicitly and comprehensively discuss all of the factors outlined within
the regulations” for weighing treating physician opinions and failed to provide good reasons for
rejecting Dr. Sullivan’s opinion. (Dkt. No. 9, at 7-8 [Pl. Mem. of Law].)
Generally, Defendant argues that the ALJ was correct in declining to afford Dr.
Sullivan’s opinion controlling weight because it was not supported by the clinical and laboratory
evidence in the record. (Dkt. No. 11, at 5-6 [Def. Mem. of Law].) Defendant argues that the
ALJ considered the required factors for determining the weight to which Dr. Sullivan’s opinion
was entitled, including Dr. Sullivan’s specialty, his treatment relationship with Plaintiff, the
medical imaging and treatment notes, and Plaintiff’s reports of his own functioning at the
hearing. (Dkt. No. 11, at 7 [Def. Mem. of Law].) Defendant also argues that it was proper for
the ALJ to reject Dr. Sullivan’s opinion where it seemed to be based on Plaintiff’s subjective
complaints because he properly found those complaints to be not entirely credible. (Dkt. No. 11,
at 8-9 [Def. Mem. of Law].)
RELEVANT LEGAL STANDARD
Standard of Review
A court reviewing a denial of disability benefits may not determine de novo whether an
individual is disabled. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Wagner v. Sec’y of Health & Human Servs., 906 F.2d
856, 860 (2d Cir. 1990). Rather, the Commissioner’s determination will be reversed only if the
correct legal standards were not applied, or it was not supported by substantial evidence. See
Johnson v. Bowen, 817 F.2d 983, 986 (2d Cir. 1987) (“Where there is a reasonable basis for
doubt whether the ALJ applied correct legal principles, application of the substantial evidence
standard to uphold a finding of no disability creates an unacceptable risk that a claimant will be
deprived of the right to have her disability determination made according to the correct legal
principles.”); accord Grey v. Heckler, 721 F.2d 41, 46 (2d Cir. 1983); Marcus v. Califano, 615
F.2d 23, 27 (2d Cir. 1979). “Substantial evidence” is evidence that amounts to “more than a
mere scintilla,” and 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, 91 S. Ct.
1420, 1427 (1971) (quotation omitted). Where evidence is deemed susceptible to more than one
rational interpretation, the Commissioner’s conclusion must be upheld. See Rutherford v.
Schweiker, 685 F.2d 60, 62 (2d Cir. 1982).
“To determine on appeal whether an ALJ’s findings are supported by substantial
evidence, a reviewing court considers the whole record, examining evidence from both sides,
because an analysis of the substantiality of the evidence must also include that which detracts
from its weight.” Williams v. Bowen, 859 F.2d 255, 258 (2d Cir. 1988). If supported by
substantial evidence, the Commissioner’s finding must be sustained “even where substantial
evidence may support the plaintiff’s 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). 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 & Human Servs., 733 F.2d 1037, 1041 (2d Cir. 1984)
Standard to Determine Disability
The Commissioner has established a five-step evaluation process to determine whether an
individual is disabled as defined by the Social Security Act. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920.
The Supreme Court has recognized the validity of this sequential evaluation process. Bowen v.
Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140-42, 107 S. Ct. 2287 (1987). The five-step process is as follows:
First, the [Commissioner] considers whether the claimant is
currently engaged in substantial gainful activity. If he is not, the
[Commissioner] next considers whether the claimant has a “severe
impairment” which significantly limits his physical or mental ability
to do basic work activities. If the claimant suffers such an
impairment, the third inquiry is whether, based solely on medical
evidence, the claimant has an impairment which is listed in
Appendix 1 of the regulations. If the claimant has such an
impairment, the [Commissioner] will consider him disabled without
considering vocational factors such as age, education, and work
experience; the [Commissioner] presumes that a claimant who is
afflicted with a “listed” impairment is unable to perform substantial
gainful activity. Assuming the claimant does not have a listed
impairment, the fourth inquiry is whether, despite the claimant’s
severe impairment, he has the residual functional capacity to
perform his past work. Finally, if the claimant is unable to perform
his past work, the [Commissioner] then determines whether there is
other work which the claimant could perform. Under the cases
previously discussed, the claimant bears the burden of the proof as
to the first four steps, while the [Commissioner] must prove the final
Berry v. Schweiker, 675 F.2d 464, 467 (2d Cir. 1982), accord McIntyre v. Colvin, 758 F.3d 146,
150 (2d Cir. 2014). “If at any step a finding of disability or non-disability can be made, the SSA
will not review the claim further.” Barnhart v. Thompson, 540 U.S. 20, 24 (2003).
After carefully considering the matter of whether the ALJ failed to properly apply the
treating physician rule to the opinion of Dr. Sullivan, the Court answers this question in the
negative for the reasons stated in Defendant’s memorandum of law. (Dkt. No. 11, at 5-9 [Def.’s
Mem. of Law].) To those reasons, the Court adds the following analysis.
The Second Circuit has long recognized the ‘treating physician rule’ set out in 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1527(c). “‘[T]he opinion of a claimant’s treating physician as to the nature and severity of
the impairment is given ‘controlling weight’ so long as it is ‘well-supported by medically
acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques and is not inconsistent with the other
substantial evidence in the case record.’” Greek v. Colvin, 802 F.3d 370, 375 (2d Cir. 2015)
(quoting Burgess v. Astrue, 537 F.3d 117, 128 (2d Cir. 2008)). However, there are situations
where the treating physician’s opinion is not entitled to controlling weight, in which case “the
ALJ must explicitly consider, inter alia: (1) the frequency, length, nature, and extent of
treatment; (2) the amount of medical evidence supporting the opinion; (3) the consistency of the
opinion with the remaining medical evidence; and (4) whether the physician is a specialist.’”
Greek, 802 F.3d at 375 (quoting Selian v. Astrue, 708 F.3d 409, 418 (2d Cir. 2013)). However,
“[w]here an ALJ’s reasoning and adherence to the Regulations is clear, she is not required to
explicitly go through each and every factor of the Regulation.” Blinkovitch v. Comm’r of Soc.
Sec., No. 3:15-CV-1196 (GTS/WBC), 2017 WL 782979, at *4 (N.D.N.Y. Jan. 23, 2017),
adopted by 2017 WL 782901 (N.D.N.Y. Feb. 28, 2017) (citing Atwater v. Astrue, 512 F. App’x
67, 70 (2d Cir. 2013)). After considering these factors, “the ALJ must ‘comprehensively set
forth [his] reasons for the weight assigned to a treating physician’s opinion.’” Greek, 802 F.3d at
375 (quoting Burgess, 537 F.3d at 129) (alteration in original). “The failure to provide ‘good
reasons for not crediting the opinion of a claimant’s treating physician is a ground for remand.’”
Id. (quoting Burgess, 537 F.3d at 129-30).
On June 17, 2013, Dr. Sullivan submitted a residual functional assessment, in which he
opined that Plaintiff was limited to the following: sitting 20 minutes at one time and about four
hours total in an eight-hour workday; standing 10 minutes at one time and standing and walking
less than two hours total in an eight-hour workday; shifting positions at will from sitting,
standing, or walking; taking unscheduled breaks approximately every 20 minutes; lifting and
carrying 10 to 20 pounds rarely and less than 10 pounds frequently; frequently performing
maneuvers with his head and neck; occasionally climbing stairs; rarely climbing ladders; and
never twisting, stooping, crouching, or squatting. (T. 337-39.) Dr. Sullivan also opined that
Plaintiff would likely be absent from work more than four days per month due to his
impairments. (T. 339.)
The ALJ afforded little weight to this functional opinion, finding that the limitations Dr.
Sullivan opined were “based solely on the claimant’s subjective complaints and not treatment
records,” and noting that they did not “comport with medical imaging, which shows only mild
degenerative changes, or Dr. Sullivan’s conservative treatment plan for the claimant including
exercise and basic pain medications.” (T. 19.) In addition to these explicit reasons when
discussing Dr. Sullivan’s opinion, the ALJ included a detailed recitation of the treatment
evidence, including the MRI studies related to Plaintiff’s lumbar spine and knees. (T. 17-18.)
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ was incorrect in finding that Dr. Sullivan’s opinion was not
supported by the medical imaging and the objective medical evidence, pointing to a few selected
pieces of evidence that he believes support a contrary finding. (Dkt. No. 9, at 6-7 [Pl. Mem. of
Law].) However, this argument amounts to nothing more than a request for this Court to
reweigh the evidence, something that is prohibited by the limited scope of this Court’s review.
See Warren v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 3:15-CV-1185 (GTS/WBC), 2016 WL 7223338, at *9
(N.D.N.Y. Nov. 18, 2016) adopted by 2016 WL 7238947 (N.D.N.Y. Dec. 13, 2016) (“When
applying the substantial evidence test to a finding that a plaintiff was not disabled, the Court
‘will not reweigh the evidence presented at the administrative hearing, . . . nor will it determine
whether [the applicant] actually was disabled. [Rather], [a]bsent an error of law by the
Secretary, [a] court must affirm her decision if there is substantial evidence [in the record] to
support it.’”) (quoting Lefford v. McCall, 916 F. Supp. 150, 155 (N.D.N.Y. 1996)) (alteration in
original); Vincent v. Shalala, 830 F. Supp. 126, 133 (N.D.N.Y. 1993) (“[I]t is not the function of
the reviewing court to reweigh the evidence.”) (citing Carroll v. Sec’y of Health and Human
Servs., 705 F.2d 638, 642 (2d Cir. 1983)). The ALJ provided a discussion of the evidence within
the narrative of the decision that accounted for nearly every documented instance of treatment
from the applicable period in the sparse record and that shows the evidence upon which the ALJ
relied when making her determination. (T. 17-18.) There is nothing in the ALJ’s discussion or
the record as a whole that suggests that her consideration of the treatment evidence was
incomplete or unreasonable, and her analysis shows that there was substantial evidence to
support her finding that Dr. Sullivan’s opinion was not supported by the objective medical
evidence in the record as a whole. See Rockwood v. Astrue, 614 F. Supp. 2d 252, 266 (N.D.N.Y.
2009) (“If supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner’s finding must be sustained
‘even where substantial evidence may support the plaintiff’s position and despite that the court’s
independent analysis of the evidence may differ from the [Commissioner’s].’”) (quoting Rosado,
805 F. Supp. at 153).
Plaintiff also argues that the ALJ failed to consider the required factors from 20 C.F.R. §
416.927(c), instead relying on her own assertions that Dr. Sullivan’s treatment of Plaintiff was
conservative. (Dkt. No. 9, at 7-8 [Pl. Mem. of Law].) Plaintiff asserts that “there is no
indication in the records” that Dr. Sullivan’s opinion was based on Plaintiff’s subjective reports.
(Id.) Plaintiff argues that the reasons the ALJ did provide did not constitute good reasons that
were sufficient to reject Dr. Sullivan’s opinion. (Id.) However, Plaintiff’s arguments are not
persuasive for a number of reasons.
First, contrary to Plaintiff’s argument, the ALJ did appropriately consider the required
factors when assessing Dr. Sullivan’s opinion. The ALJ noted that Dr. Sullivan was Plaintiff’s
primary care physician and that he had been treating Plaintiff since at least September 30, 2011. 3
(T. 17.) As noted previously, the ALJ also provided a detailed analysis of the medical evidence,
most of which was treatment from Dr. Sullivan, and this analysis is consistent with the ALJ’s
conclusion that Dr. Sullivan’s opinion appeared to be based on Plaintiff’s subjective complaints
due to a lack of support from the objective findings. On most examinations, Dr. Sullivan noted
no acute distress, normal knee range of motion with normal lateral ligamentous stability, normal
feet and lower extremities, normal neurological signs, and no swelling or tenderness in the knees,
though there was a substantial amount of crepitus with flexing consistent with chondromalacia
patellae. (T. 262, 265, 269, 355, 378.) One occasion on December 4, 2013, Dr. Sullivan did
note that Plaintiff had an antalgic and limping gait, though he was not using a cane. (T. 353.)
Dr. Sullivan also noted tenderness and swelling in Plaintiff’s right foot on March 27, 2015, but
The record does show two instances of treatment with Dr. Sullivan between June 17,
2010, and September 30, 2011, that the ALJ did not discuss. (T. 265-72.) However, the June
examination shows lumbar spine findings identical to most of Dr. Sullivan’s later examinations
and an examination in October showed everything essentially within normal limits. (Id.)
Consequently, even if the ALJ failed to consider the full length of Dr. Sullivan’s treatment, the
low frequency of that prior treatment and the lack of additional findings supporting Dr.
Sullivan’s opinion in those earlier treatment notes prevent this oversight from constituting a legal
error in assessing Dr. Sullivan’s opinion, as they do not suggest that the ALJ’s conclusions
would have been different had he explicitly recognized the longer treatment relationship.
this was related to an acute flare of gout rather than a representation of his chronic
symptomology. (T. 375, 378.) A physical therapy evaluation on May 8, 2013, revealed
abnormal posture when seated due to back pain, minimal to moderate loss in various lumbar
ranges of motion, 4/5 knee strength with flexion and extension, pain and difficulty with walking
on heels and toes, and positive bilateral straight leg raising at 45 degrees. (T. 359-60.) Although
these examinations show some abnormalities related to Plaintiff’s lumbar spine and knees, they
do not contradict the ALJ’s clear finding that the objective medical evidence as a whole did not
support the extent of Dr. Sullivan’s opined limitations. See Aldrich v. Astrue, 5:08-CV-0402
(TJM), 2009 WL 3165726, at *7 (N.D.N.Y. Sept. 28, 2009) (finding that the ALJ was entitled to
afford less than controlling weight to the opinion of a treating physician who appeared to rely on
the plaintiff’s subjective complaints more than any diagnostic or clinical evidence).
The imaging studies also do not support Plaintiff’s claims that the objective imaging was
consistent with the range of restrictions included in Dr. Sullivan’s opinion. An x-ray of the
lumbar spine from April 9, 2013, showed minimal osteophytes anterior to the L2 and L3 levels.
(T. 231.) An x-ray of the left knee from the same date showed normal alignment and joint
spaces, no joint effusion, and normal soft tissue and osseous structures. (T. 232.) An x-ray of
the right knee from the same date showed slight squaring of the medial joint margins and
minimal degenerative changes. (T. 232-33.) An MRI of the right knee from December 20,
2013, showed a small multiloculated popliteal cyst in the medial popliteal fossa and a
degenerative signal in the medial meniscus. (T. 342.) The ALJ explicitly discussed all of these
imaging studies and the minimal findings within her discussion of the evidence, making it clear
that she considered them, and she specifically found that the objective imaging was not
consistent with Dr. Sullivan’s opinion. (T. 17-19.)
Second, as Defendant notes, it was proper for the ALJ to reject Dr. Sullivan’s opinion
where it appeared to be based on Plaintiff’s subjective reports because the ALJ found Plaintiff’s
subjective reports to be not entirely credible. (Dkt. No. 11, at 8-9 [Def. Mem. of Law].) As
Defendant notes, although Plaintiff testified he was limited to a disabling extent, he also testified
he was able to wash dishes, sweep the floor, go out for social activities twice per month, and
make his own meals daily. (Dkt. No. 11, at 9 [Def. Mem. of Law].) The ALJ’s discussion of the
treatment evidence shows that ALJ found Plaintiff’s allegations of disability were not consistent
with the extent of limitations substantiated by the medical evidence or with the type and extent of
treatment Plaintiff received for his impairments. (T. 17-19.) Consequently, there is nothing
inconsistent between the ALJ’s stated credibility assessment and her rejection of Dr. Sullivan’s
opinion, and there is no legal error in the ALJ’s finding that Dr. Sullivan’s opinion was entitled
to little weight due to its apparent reliance on Plaintiff’s subjective reports. See Aldrich, 2009
WL 3165726, at *7; see also Dailey v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., No. 5:14-CV-1518 (GTS/WBC),
2016 WL 922261, at *5 (N.D.N.Y. Feb. 18, 2016) (noting that “[a]n ALJ may provide less
weight to a treating source’s opinion if that opinion is based on plaintiff’s subjective complaints
and not on objective medical evidence”), adopted by 2016 WL 917941 (N.D.N.Y. Mar. 10,
2016) (citing Major v. Astrue, No. 12-CV-304S, 2013 WL 2296306, at *5 (W.D.N.Y. May 24,
2013); Ford v. Astrue, No. 1:06-CV-1227 (LEK), 2010 WL 3825618, at *9 (N.D.N.Y. Sept. 24,
2010)); see also Rivera v. Colvin, 592 F. App’x 32, 33 (2d Cir. 2015); Roma v. Astrue, 468 F.
App’x 16, 19 (2d Cir. 2012).
Third, the ALJ’s citation to Dr. Sullivan’s conservative treatment plan as part of her
analysis was also not improper, and the record shows that Plaintiff was typically only prescribed
mild non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as naproxen or salsalate, for pain relief.
Although the record does substantiate his testimony that he had also been prescribed
prednisone, 4 this was for an acute flare of gout, not pain control related to his spine or knee
symptoms. (T. 364, 375, 378.) It was not unreasonable or improper for the ALJ to determine
that such a limited treatment plan was inconsistent with the extensive functional restrictions Dr.
Sullivan opined when, as here, the ALJ combined that determination with an assessment of the
medical treatment evidence as a whole, including the objective imaging studies showing minimal
findings. Burgess, 537 F.3d at 129 (“The fact that a patient takes only over-the-counter medicine
to alleviate her pain may, however, help to support the Commissioner’s conclusion that the
claimant is not disabled if that fact is accompanied by other substantial evidence in the record,
such as the opinions of other examining physicians and a negative MRI.”) (citing Diaz v.
Shalala, 59 F.3d 307, 314 (2d Cir. 1995)). Because the ALJ provided multiple clear reasons for
affording little weight to Dr. Sullivan’s opinion that were supported by substantial evidence and
her decision shows she appropriately considered the factors required in the regulations, her
finding is consistent with the applicable legal standards and supported by substantial evidence.
The fact that the ALJ rejected the only physical functional opinion from a medical source
does not mean that her RFC assessment is unsupported by substantial evidence. Contrary to
Plaintiff’s representative’s arguments at the administrative hearing, an ALJ is not required to
afford significant weight to a treating physician’s opinion even if that opinion is not consistent
with the evidence simply because the source is a treating physician and there is no other
Prednisone is a corticosteroid drug used to treat inflammation produced by various
diseases and causes. Prednisone, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF HEALTH, U.S. NATIONAL LIBRARY OF
MEDICINE, https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a601102.html (last visited May 10, 2017).
enlightening functional opinion evidence. 5 (T. 31-32.) It is the ALJ’s role as fact-finder to
weigh all the evidence and come to a conclusion; the fact that she does not rely on any one
opinion when doing so is not error unless her findings are unsupported by substantial evidence.
20 C.F.R. § 416.945 (indicating that it is the duty of the ALJ, not a medical source, to formulate
a claimant’s RFC); Matta v. Astrue, 508 F. App’x 53, 56 (2d Cir. 2013) (“Although the ALJ’s
conclusion may not perfectly correspond with any of the opinions of medical sources cited in his
decision, he was entitled to weigh all of the evidence available to make an RFC finding that was
consistent with the record as a whole.”) (citation omitted). Here, there was sufficient treatment
evidence for the ALJ to determine that Plaintiff was capable of performing a range of light work,
and the ALJ’s RFC determination is supported by a medical record that shows limited treatment
and few significant abnormalities.
For all these reasons, the weight the ALJ afforded to Dr. Sullivan’s opinion is supported
by substantial evidence, and remand is not required on this basis.
ACCORDINGLY, it is
ORDERED that Plaintiff’s motion for judgment on the pleadings (Dkt. No. 9) is
DENIED; and it is further
There were two other opinions present in the record: Dr. Sullivan indicated in a physical
therapy request from April 9, 2013, that Plaintiff had no restriction in lifting, extremity weightbearing, or range of motion, and on May 9, 2013, Phillip DeBruin, P.T., acknowledged Dr.
Sullivan’s notation of lack of precaution restrictions, though he did note that, based on the
physical therapy examination performed, Plaintiff’s functional capabilities were “limited by his
perception of pain, his perception of functional loss and fear of making his underlying condition
worse.” (T. 258, 357, 361.) The ALJ afforded both of these opinions little weight, findings that
Plaintiff did not challenge. (T. 18.) Neither of these opinions provide evidence showing that
Plaintiff was more significantly limited than accounted for in the RFC assessment and therefore
do not undermine the substantial evidence supporting the ALJ’s findings.
ORDERED that Defendant’s motion for judgment on the pleadings (Dkt. No. 11) is
GRANTED; and it is further
ORDERED that Defendant’s decision denying Plaintiff disability benefits is
AFFIRMED; and it is further
ORDERED that Plaintiff’s Complaint (Dkt. No. 1) is DISMISSED.
Dated: May 10, 2017
Syracuse, New York
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