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Esposito v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

March 30, 2017

MICHELLE LEE ESPOSITO Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          RULING AND ORDER

          VICTOR A. BOLDEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         On September 19, 2014, Plaintiff, Michelle Esposito, initiated this lawsuit by filing a Complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Compl., ECF No. 1. Ms. Esposito seeks the reversal of a final decision by Defendant, Carolyn Colvin, the Acting Commissioner of Social Security (the “Commissioner”), denying Ms. Esposito's application for disability insurance benefits. Mot. to Reverse Decision, ECF No. 17. On November 23, 2015, Magistrate Judge William I. Garfinkel issued a ruling recommending that the Court affirm the decision of the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) in Ms. Esposito's case. Recommended Ruling, ECF No. 24. On December 21, 2015, Ms. Esposito formally objected to the Recommended Ruling. Pl. Obj., ECF No. 26. The underlying facts of this case are fully set forth in the Recommended Ruling.

         Rule 72(b)(3) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and Local Rule 72.2(b) of the Local Civil Rules of the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut require the Court to review de novo any sections of the Recommended Ruling to which any party properly objects. Ms. Esposito has objected to the Recommended Ruling on the following grounds: (1) it affirmed an improper application of the “treating physician rule”; (2) its “step five” analysis was erroneous; and (3) its credibility assessment was inadequate. Pl. Obj., ECF No. 26. Each of these objections largely repeats arguments made before Magistrate Judge Garfinkel. See Johnston v. Colvin, No. 3:13-CV-00073 (JCH), 2014 WL 1304715, at *1 (D. Conn. Mar. 31, 2014) (“Where the objecting party simply reiterates her original argument, the court reviews the Magistrate Judge's recommended ruling only for clear error.” (citing Pall Corp. v. Entegria, Inc., 249 F.R.D. 48, 51 (E.D.N.Y. 2008); Burgos v. Astrue, No. 3:09-CV-1216 (VLB), 2010 WL 3829108, at *1 (D. Conn. Sept. 22, 2010))).

         The Court has carefully reviewed the Recommended Ruling, Plaintiff's Objections, the ALJ's Decision, and the evidence in the administrative record pertinent to the specific objections Ms. Esposito raised. For the reasons outlined below, the Recommended Ruling is ADOPTED in its entirety, and for the well-stated reasons provided in the Recommended Ruling, Ms. Esposito's Motion to Reverse the Decision of the Commissioner [ECF No. 17] is DENIED and Defendant's Motion to Affirm the Commissioner's Decision [ECF No. 18] is GRANTED.

         1) Treating Physician Rule

         Ms. Esposito argues that both the ALJ decision and the Recommended Ruling improperly applied the “treating physician rule” by failing to give controlling weight to the opinions provided by two of her treating physicians, Dr. Daniel Feldman and Dr. Aleesha Grier. The Court disagrees.

         Under the treating physician rule, “the 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.'” Burgess v. Astrue, 537 F.3d 117, 128 (2d Cir. 2008) (quoting 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(d)(2)); see also Greek v. Colvin, 802 F.3d 370, 375 (2d Cir. 2015). Ms. Esposito argues that the ALJ decision and the Recommended Ruling improperly failed to consider all of the substantial evidence in the record when concluding that the opinions of Dr. Feldman and Dr. Grier should not be given controlling weight. Ms. Esposito does not deny that there is some evidence in the record that contradicts these treating physicians' conclusions. See Pl. Obj. at 7 (“We confront a situation in this case in which there is, to be sure, a small quantum of evidence that undercuts Dr. Feldman's opinions”). However, she claims that this contradictory evidence is insignificant compared to the substantial evidence in the record that supports the physicians' conclusions.

         It is “within the province of the ALJ to credit portions of a treating physician's report while declining to accept other portions of the same report, where the record contain[s] conflicting opinions on the same medical condition.” Pavia v. Colvin, No. 6:14-cv-06379 (MAT), 2015 WL 4644537, at 4 (W.D.N.Y. Aug. 4, 2015) (citing Veino v. Barnhart, 312 F.3d 578, 588 (2d Cir. 2002)). In Dr. Feldman's written opinion, he finds that Ms. Esposito can neither sit, stand, nor walk for more than ten continuous minutes without resting for twenty minutes afterwards, and he ultimately concludes that Ms. Esposito's pain would “most likely prevent her” from ever finding full- or part-time employment. R. 1224, 1244. In Dr. Grier's written opinion, she concludes that Ms. Esposito suffers from “extreme impairment” with respect to coping with symptoms of depression and appropriately regulating emotions. R. 1242.

         These conclusions are contradicted by substantial evidence in the record. As explained in the Recommended Ruling, the record evidence cited by the ALJ shows “adequate control of Plaintiff's pain with medication and treatment”; “numerous physical examinations with normal findings and mild to moderate imaging studies”; “treatment notes indicating Plaintiff's improvement with therapy”; and a list of reported daily activities that are “inconsistent with the extreme limitations” to which the treating physicians opined. Recommended Ruling at 5; R. 955, 957, 1080, 1197, 1200, 1203. While Ms. Esposito correctly notes that there is also evidence in the record suggesting that Ms. Esposito suffers from significant physical and social limitations, see, e.g., R. 609, 929-30, these limitations are appropriately reflected in the ALJ's conclusion that Ms. Esposito is “unable to perform any past relevant work” and that she “is limited to work that involves routine tasks and only superficial and incidental interaction with the public or co-workers.” R. 190, 195. Ms. Esposito argues that the Recommended Ruling failed to acknowledge the record evidence that was consistent with the treating physicians' conclusions; however, Ms. Esposito has not identified any binding case law requiring the ALJ to outline every aspect of the record that could potentially support the treating physicians' conclusions before declining to give controlling weight to those conclusions.

         The Court concludes that the ALJ and the Recommended Ruling appropriately declined to give controlling weight to the opinions of Ms. Esposito's treating physicians, Dr. Feldman and Dr. Grier, in light of the inconsistencies between those opinions and the substantial evidence in the record cited by the ALJ. The ALJ identified “good reasons” not to give controlling weight to the opinions of Dr. Feldman and Dr. Green; thus, the Court chooses not to depart from the Recommended Ruling on this basis. See Burgess, 537 F.3d 117, 129-30 (2d Cir. 2008) (failure to provide “‘good reasons' for not crediting the opinion of a claimant's treating physician” can be a basis for remand (quoting Snell v. Apfel, 177 F.3d 128, 133 (2d Cir. 1999))).

         2) Step Five Analysis

         Next, Ms. Esposito argues that the ALJ and the Recommended Ruling improperly concluded that she could still perform the job of “Surveillance System Monitor, ” listed in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles at Section 379.367-010.[1] According to Ms. Esposito, the vocational expert's testimony incorrectly overstated the number of nationally available jobs in this position. She also argues that the testimony of the vocational expert contradicted the description of this position under the Dictionary of Occupational Titles; thus, the ALJ should not have relied on the vocational expert's testimony when conducting its “Step Five” analysis.[2] The Court disagrees.

         At the administrative proceeding, the vocational expert testified that approximately 997, 000 jobs were available nationwide in the position of “Surveillance System Monitor, ” a sedentary position with a reasoning level of 3 under the Dictionary of Occupational Titles. R. 268. Ms. Esposito challenges this figure, citing to a 2012 Second Circuit case in which this same position was cited as having only 25, 000 available jobs nationwide. Daniels v. Astrue, No. 10 CIV 6510 RWS, 2012 WL 1415322 at *17 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 18, 2012) (describing “surveillance system monitor” as a job “for which there were 1, 236 jobs in the New York City area and 25, 000 jobs nationally”); Pl. Obj. at 10 (arguing that the “Court should be troubled by” this discrepancy).

         For purposes of a “Step Five” analysis, the ALJ may consider work in the national economy that “exists in significant numbers[.]” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1566. “Courts have generally held that what constitutes a ‘significant' number is fairly minimal.” Haskins v. Commissioner ofSocial Sec., Civ. No. 5:05-CV-292 (DNH/RFT), 2008 WL 5113781 at *11 (N.D.N.Y. Sept. 11, 2008). As noted in the Recommended Ruling, “the Commissioner need show only one job existing in the national economy that [claimant] can perform.” Bavaro v. Astrue, 413 F.App'x 382, 384 (2d Cir. 2011). Whether the position of “Surveillance System Monitor” is available nationally at the level of 997, 000 jobs, as indicated by the vocational expert in the administrative proceeding, or at a the lower level of 25, 000 jobs, as indicated by the vocational ...


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