United States District Court, D. New Jersey
MICHAEL A. SHIPP UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter comes before the Court upon Michael McLaughlin's
("Plaintiff) appeal from the final decision of Nancy A.
Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration ("Defendant" or
"Commissioner"), denying Plaintiffs application for
a period of disability and disability insurance benefits
("DIB"). The Court has jurisdiction to review this
matter pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and reaches its
decision without oral argument pursuant to Local Civil Rule
78.1. For the reasons set forth below, the Court affirms the
Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ") decision.
filed an application for disability on June 10, 2013,
alleging an onset date beginning on October 17, 2012. (AR
70-71.) Plaintiffs claim was denied initially on September
25, 2013, and again upon reconsideration on January 30, 2014.
(Id. at 70-77, 80-88.) The ALJ conducted an
administrative hearing on May 24, 2016, following which the
ALJ issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was not
disabled. (Id. at 9-19, 24-68.) The Appeals Council
denied Plaintiffs request for review on September 15, 2017.
(Id. at 1-4.) On November 19, 2017, Plaintiff filed
an appeal to the District Court of New Jersey. (ECF No. 1.)
The Clerk issued a summons on November 20, 2017 (ECF No. 4),
which Plaintiff returned executed on March 14, 2018 (ECF No.
6). Defendant filed the administrative record on April 10,
2018. (ECF No. 10.) This case was reassigned to Chief Judge
Jose L. Linares on April 13, 2018. (ECF No. 11.) Plaintiff
filed his moving brief on November 26, 2018, pursuant to
Local Civil Rule 9.1. (ECF No. 17.) The Commissioner filed
opposition on December 7, 2018 (ECF No. 18), and Plaintiff
did not reply. On March 4, 2019, this case was reassigned to
the Undersigned for all further proceedings. (ECF No. 19.)
is a fifty-one year-old male born on July 20, 1967. (AR 145.)
He holds a high school diploma, and served twenty-three years
on the New York City police force in Staten Island, primarily
as a patrol officer. (Id. at 35-36.) Plaintiff filed
his initial disability claim based on: "cervical fusion
and discectomy," "cervical herniated disc,
radiculopathy," "left shoulder impingement, status
post surgery," and "lumbar bulging disc."
(Id. at 70, 80.)
medical problems began after he suffered a head-on collision
while driving a patrol car on duty as a police officer in
2005, causing him to sustain an injury to his spine.
(Id. at 352.) He underwent surgery in August of 2005
with Dr. Benjamin, and after extensive rehabilitative
therapy, returned to the police force on light duty.
(Id. at 315, 352, 367.) In 2010, Plaintiff
"f[ell] down the stairs while on duty and reinjured his
cervical and lumbar spine" and left shoulder.
(Id.) He then underwent left shoulder surgery in
2010 with Dr. Reilly. (Id. at 315.) In 2015,
Plaintiff had additional cervical spinal surgery at New York
University Hospital. (Id. at 354.)
hearing, Plaintiff testified that he resides in New Jersey
with his girlfriend and two teenage daughters. (Id.
at 33.) He testified that he has a driver's license, but
cannot drive more than twenty-five miles at a time.
(Id. at 34.) Plaintiff testified that he served as a
police officer in Staten Island, and that after his injury,
he was put on "restricted duty" and tasked with
light desk work around the station house. (Id. at
35-36.) He testified that while he desired to return to full
duty, he was not permitted to do so. (Id. at 37.)
Plaintiff testified that he has not looked for any other work
since being put on disability retirement "because of all
the medical issues [he has] had" and because of his
"chronic pain." (Id. at 41-42.)
testified that for pain, he takes Tramadol, Zanaflex, Mobic,
and Flexeril. (Id. at 42.) He further testified that
he cannot walk longer than twenty minutes at a time without
falling, and that he can only sit for thirty minutes at a
time because "[his] legs go numb." (Id. at
43-44.) Plaintiff stated that he has pain in his arms, neck,
lower back, and shoulder. (Id. at 44.) Plaintiff has
been treated with epidural and steroid injections, which have
provided some relief. (Id. at 46.)
to Plaintiff, he is able to do light housework such as
sweeping the floor or cooking for himself. (Id. at
48.) Plaintiff testified that he is able to lift a gallon of
milk, but tries not to lift anything heavier. (Id.
at 52.) Plaintiff also testified that he suffers pounding
headaches that he believes are triggered by neck pain from
poor sleep quality. (Id. at 53-54.) Plaintiff stated
that his medications make him very tired, and that "[he]
is not able to stay up during an eight hour period."
(Id. at 55.)
The ALJ's Decision
13, 2016, the ALJ rendered a decision. (Id. at
9-19.) The ALJ set forth the Social Security
Administration's five-step sequential process for
determining whether an individual is disabled. (Id.
at 9-11.) At step one of the analysis, the ALJ found that
Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
("SGA") since October 17, 2012, the alleged
disability onset date. (Id. at 11.) At step two of
the analysis, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the severe
impairments of chronic cervical/lumbosacral radiculopathy;
chronic traumatic cervical myeloradiculopathy; and multilevel
cervical disc herniations. (Id.)
three, the ALJ determined that none of Plaintiff s
impairments, or combination of impairments, met or medically
equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20
C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Id. at
11-12.) The ALJ next found that Plaintiff possessed the
residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform
sedentary work, except that Plaintiff can "lift/carry up
to [ten] pounds"; "stand/walk [two] hours in an
[eight] hour workday but needs the opportunity to sit for
[five] minutes after [thirty] minutes of
standing/walking"; "sit [six] hours in an
[eight]-hour workday but needs the opportunity to stand for
[five] minutes after [thirty] minutes of sitting, or is
limited to a job that is posrurally immaterial."
(Id. at 12.) The ALJ found that Plaintiff can
"occasionally climb ramps/stairs, but never climb
ladders/ropes/scaffolds," "can frequently balance,
kneel, crouch and crawl," and "can occasionally
stoop, but never reach overhead," and that Plaintiff can
"frequently handle and finger." (Id.) At
step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff is unable to perform
any past relevant work. (Id. at 18.) At step five,
considering Plaintiffs age, education, and work experience,
and relying on the testimony of the vocational expert
("VE"), the ALJ found that Plaintiff is able to
perform the requirements of representative occupations
available in significant numbers in the national economy,
such as "video surveillance monitor,"
"telemarketer," and "information aide."
(Id. at 18-19.) The ALJ, accordingly, found that
Plaintiff has not been under a disability from October 17,
2012, through the date of the decision. (Id. at 19.)