Blaszak v. Colvin
DECISION AND ORDER denying 7 Plaintiff's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings; granting 10 Commissioner's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. (Clerk to close case.) Signed by Hon. Michael A. Telesca on 3/8/17. (JMC)-CLERK TO FOLLOW UP-
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
No. 1:15-CV-00365 (MAT)
DECISION AND ORDER
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY,
Represented by counsel, Amber Blaszak (“plaintiff”) brings
this action pursuant to Title XVI 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
supplemental security income (“SSI”). 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 November 2012, plaintiff (d/o/b
January 23, 1983) applied for SSI, alleging disability as of
December 26, 2011. After her application was denied, plaintiff
requested a hearing, which was held before administrative law judge
Timothy J. Trost (“the ALJ”) on October 16, 2014. The ALJ issued an
unfavorable decision on December 18, 2014. The Appeals Council
III. The ALJ’s Decision
At step one of the five-step sequential evaluation process,
see 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520, the ALJ determined that plaintiff had not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 28, 2012,
the application date. At step two, the ALJ found that plaintiff
suffered from the severe impairment of “unspecified myalgias.”
T. 16. 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 the full range of
sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(a). At step four,
the ALJ found that plaintiff had no past relevant work. At step
education, work experience, and RFC, jobs existed in significant
numbers in the national economy which plaintiff could perform.
Accordingly, the ALJ found that plaintiff was not disabled.
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).
Plaintiff contends that the ALJ failed to give good reasons
for rejecting the opinion of her treating physician, Dr. Matthew
Fernaays. Dr. Fernaays was plaintiff’s primary care physician at
Pembroke Family Medicine. Throughout the relevant time period,
plaintiff treated with Dr. Fernaays for complaints of widespread
pain, intermittent chest pain, and anxiety. Dr. Fernaays prescribed
including Paxil, Cymbalta, and Effexor. When performed, mental
indicate essentially normal findings, with the exception of anxious
moods. Plaintiff also received counseling for anxiety at Spectrum
Human Services (“Spectrum”), although treatment notes from Spectrum
do not note findings of mental status examinations.
On February 18, 2013, Dr. Fernaays completed a functional
assessment at the request of the New York State Office of Temporary
and Disability Assistance. Dr. Fernaays noted that plaintiff did
not suffer from a thought disorder and that she had “reasonable
insight” and her thought processes were intact. According to
Dr. Fernaays, plaintiff’s attitude, appearance, and behavior were
appropriate; speech, thought, and perception were intact; and her
affect was “slightly flat” and her mood “good,” but she suffered
“significant anxiety.” T. 245. Sensorium, intellectual functioning,
insight, and judgment were intact, and plaintiff could manage her
own finances. Nevertheless, Dr. Fernaays opined that plaintiff had
a “poor ability to function in a work setting.” T. 241, 246.
Dr. Fernaays did not describe what limitations, if any, resulted
from this “poor” functioning.
The ALJ gave no weight to Dr. Fernaays’ opinion regarding
plaintiff’s mental condition,1 finding that the opinion was “far
too vague” and noting that Dr. Fernaays was “not a psychiatrist.”
T. 23. Plaintiff contends that these reasons were insufficient to
reject Dr. Fernaays’ treating source opinion. The Court disagrees.
Although the ALJ is required to consider several factors when
weighing a treating source opinion, “slavish recitation of each and
every factor [is not required] where the ALJ’s reasoning and
adherence to the regulation are clear.” Atwater v. Astrue, 512 F.
App’x 67, 70 (2d Cir. 2013). Here, it is clear from the ALJ’s
decision that he considered Dr. Fernaays’ opinion and applied the
relevant regulation, 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(c).
The ALJ’s reasoning that Dr. Fernaays’ opinion was “far too
vague” was sound because the opinion did not specify any particular
limitations stemming from plaintiff’s reported “poor ability to
function in a work setting.” Plaintiff argues that the ALJ should
have recontacted Dr. Fernaays to clarify his opinion; however, the
Dr. Fernaays opined that plaintiff had no physical limitations, and the
ALJ gave great weight to that opinion.
Court finds that given this record the ALJ did not err in failing
to do so. The questions on the form filled out by Dr. Fernaays
requested specific descriptions of functional limitations, yet
Dr. Fernaays elected not to provide such specific information.
Dr. Fernaays’ statement that plaintiff had a “poor ability to
requesting that Dr. Fernaays “describe in full any difficulties at
relationships with supervisors & peers, performance of job duties
or episodes of decompensation.” T. 246 (emphasis added). The
question also requested that Dr. Fernaays give dates, if possible.
Dr. Fernaays’ general response to this question is not surprising
given his reports, on the same form, that plaintiff demonstrated a
generally unremarkable mental status.
indicate any more significant mental status findings, and the
consulting examiner, Dr. Susan Santarpia, found that plaintiff had
no significant limitations stemming from mental health conditions.
Under these circumstances, the ALJ did not have a duty to recontact
Dr. Fernaays for clarification of his opinion. See Ayers v. Astrue,
2009 WL 4571840, *1-2 (W.D.N.Y. Dec. 7, 2009) (“[T]he duty to
recontact a treating physician arises only where the information
received is inadequate for the ALJ to determine whether plaintiff
is disabled, or where the record contains gaps in the medical
history. . . . Only if the ALJ cannot determine whether a claimant
is disabled based upon existing evidence does the duty to recontact
arise.”). Accordingly, the Court grants the Commissioner’s motion
for judgment on the pleadings.
For the foregoing reasons, plaintiff’s motion for judgment on
the pleadings (Doc. 7) is denied and the Commissioner’s motion
(Doc. 10) is granted. The Clerk of the Court is directed to close
ALL OF THE ABOVE IS SO ORDERED.
S/Michael A. Telesca
HON. MICHAEL A. TELESCA
United States District Judge
March 8, 2017
Rochester, New York
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