Baker v. Colvin
ORDER denying 10 Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings; granting 13 Commissioner's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. (Clerk to close case.). Signed by Hon. Michael A. Telesca on 5/16/17. (JMC)-CLERK TO FOLLOW UP-
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
No. 1:16-CV-00093 (MAT)
DECISION AND ORDER
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY,
Represented by counsel, Theresa Baker (“plaintiff”) brings
this action pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act (“the
Act”), seeking review of the final decision of the Commissioner of
Social Security (“the Commissioner”) denying her application for
disability insurance benfits (“DIB”). The Court has jurisdiction
over this matter pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Presently before
the Court are the parties’ cross-motions for judgment on the
pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure. For the reasons discussed below, the Commissioner’s
motion is granted.
The record reveals that in January 2012, plaintiff (d/o/b
February 6, 1980) applied for DIB, alleging disability as of
requested a hearing, which was held before administrative law judge
Timothy McGuan (“the ALJ”) on January 15, 2014. The ALJ issued an
unfavorable decision on August 6, 2014. The Appeals Council denied
review of the ALJ’s decision and this timely action followed.
III. The ALJ’s Decision
Initially, the ALJ found that plaintiff met the insured status
requirements of the Act through December 31, 2015. At step one of
§ 404.1520, the ALJ determined that plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since April 18, 2010, the alleged
onset date. At step two, the ALJ found that plaintiff suffered from
the following severe impairments: myofascial pain syndrom; C5-C6
disc herniation with nerve entrapment; fibromyalgia; and chronis
thyroiditis. At step three, the ALJ found that plaintiff did not
have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled a listed impairment.
Before proceeding to step four, the ALJ determined that,
considering all of plaintiff’s impairments, plaintiff retained the
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work as
limitations: she can stand and walk up to four hours in an eighthour workday.” T. 31. At step four, the ALJ found that plaintiff
was able to perform past relevant work as a debt collector.
Accordingly, the ALJ found plaintiff disabled at step four and did
not proceed to step five.
determination that a claimant is not disabled only if the factual
findings are not supported by “substantial evidence” or if the
decision is based on legal error. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); see also
Green-Younger v. Barnhart, 335 F.3d 99, 105-06 (2d Cir. 2003).
“Substantial evidence means ‘such relevant evidence as a reasonable
mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.’” Shaw v.
Chater, 221 F.3d 126, 131 (2d Cir. 2000).
Treating Physician Rule
physician rule in assessing the opinion of Dr. Carlos Martinez, one
of plaintiff’s treating physicians. The treating physician rule
provides that an ALJ must give controlling weight to a treating
physician’s opinion if that opinion is well-supported by medically
acceptable clinical and diagnostic techniques and not inconsistent
with other substantial evidence in the record. See Halloran v.
§ 416.927(c)(2). An ALJ must give “good reasons” for discounting
the opinion of a treating physician. See Coluciello-Pitkouvich v.
Astrue, 2014 WL 4954664, *6 (E.D.N.Y. Sept. 30, 2014) (“[T]he ALJ
must expressly state the weight assigned and provide ‘good reasons’
source's opinion.”) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(2)).
physician rule by incorrectly stating that Dr. Carlos Martinez,
plaintiff’s treating physician, “never indicated that [plaintiff]
was totally disabled.” Doc. 10-1 (quoting T. 40). Plaintiff argues
‘currently still unable to work’ on February 11, 2013.” Id. (citing
T. 689). According to plaintiff, the ALJ failed to give “good
reasons” for rejecting this February 11, 2013 opinion.
Dr. Martinez’s statement, contained within the context of a
single treatment note, does not indicate that plaintiff was totally
12 months, see 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A) – but merely that plaintiff
was “currently” not able to work. Thus, the ALJ correctly noted
that Dr. Martinez never opined that plaintiff was totally disabled,
contrary to plaintiff’s argument. The Court thus finds that the ALJ
did not err in failing to provide “good reasons” for rejecting
Dr. Martinez’s February 11, 2011 statement.
Weight Given to Consulting Examining Opinion
Plaintiff contends that the ALJ did not adequately explain the
weight he gave to the consulting examining opinion of Dr. Hongbiao
Liu, a state agency physician specializing in internal medicine.
Dr. Liu opined that plaintiff had “mild limitation for her routine
activities,” and that she should “try to avoid lifting, carrying,
bending, and kneeling.” T. 572-73. Dr. Liu also stated that due to
her asthma plaintiff “should try to avoid dust and other irritating
factors to limit asthma attacks.” T. 573. The ALJ gave “some”
weight to Dr. Liu’s opinion, finding that it was “consistent with
the medical evidence of record.” T. 36.
Plaintiff contends that the ALJ’s RFC finding does not account
for Dr. Liu’s opinion that plaintiff should “try to avoid lifting,
carrying, bending, and kneeling.” As the Commissioner points out,
however, the ALJ’s RFC finding need not “perfectly correspond with
any of the opinions of the medical sources cited in his decision.”
Matta v. Astrue, 508 F. App’x 53, 56 (2d Cir. 2013); see also Veino
v. Barnhart, 312 F.3d 578, 588 (2d Cir. 2002) (finding that ALJ
properly assigned weight only to the portion of a medical opinion
which was supported by substantial evidence).
The ALJ’s RFC finding accounts for limitations in lifting,
carrying, bending, and kneeling, as the ALJ restricted plaintiff to
light work with restrictions or sedentary work. Moreover, the RFC
is consistent with Dr. Liu’s findings on physical examination,
which were unremarkable except for some limitation in range of
motion (“ROM”) of the lumbar spine (although straight leg raising
test was negative); plaintiff’s cervical spine showed full ROM and
she had a full ROM “of shoulders, elbows, forearms, and wrists
bilaterally.” T. 572. Finally, a reading of the ALJ’s entire
decision demonstrates that the ALJ’s adoption of only some degree
of limitation in the functions outlined by Dr. Liu was supported by
the remainder of the medical record, which often noted unremarkable
physical exam findings with respect to those functions. See T. 3140. Thus, considering the ALJ’s decision in the context of the
record as a whole, the Court concludes that the ALJ “sufficiently
explain[ed] the rationale behind the weight determination.” Mercado
v. Colvin, 2016 WL 3866587, *15 (S.D.N.Y. July 13, 2016).
Development of the Record
Plaintiff contends that the ALJ failed to fully develop the
erroneously found that treating physician Dr. Eugene Gosy’s rating
of plaintiff at a 50 percent disability level was consistent with
sedentary work and with light work performed with the restrictions
outlined in the RFC.
“functioning as a nurse” at the same time he assessed her with a
50 percent disability. See T. 428; 421 (“[S]he is working full time
status in a doctor’s office.”). “[W]here there are no obvious gaps
in the administrative record, and where the ALJ already possesses
a complete medical history, the ALJ is under no obligation to seek
additional information in advance of rejecting a benefits claim.”
Rosa v. Callahan, 168 F.3d 72, 79 n.5 (2d Cir.1999) (internal
quotation marks omitted). The medical portion of the record, which
spans approximately 600 pages, was complete with no obvious gaps.
The ALJ was entitled to interpret Dr. Gosy’s treatment notes and
conclude, based on those notes as well as the other substantial
evidence of record, that plaintiff was not disabled. See, e.g.,
Walker v. Astrue, 881 F. Supp. 2d 446, 451 (W.D.N.Y. 2012) (finding
that ALJ did not err in finding that physician’s opinion suggested
conclusion was supported by substantial evidence).
For the foregoing reasons, and based upon substantial evidence
in the record, plaintiff’s motion for judgment on the pleadings
(Doc. 10) is denied and the Commissioner’s motion (Doc. 13) is
granted. The Clerk of the Court is directed to close this case.
ALL OF THE ABOVE IS SO ORDERED.
S/Michael A. Telesca
HON. MICHAEL A. TELESCA
United States District Judge
May 16, 2017
Rochester, New York
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