The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kendall J. Newman United States Magistrate Judge
Plaintiff seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") partially denying plaintiff's application for Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act ("Act").*fn1 (Dkt. No. 17.) In his motion for summary judgment, plaintiff alleges that the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") erred by finding that plaintiff was "disabled" only as of February 11, 2008, and not as of October 5, 2005, the date plaintiff contends is warranted by the medical opinion provided by one of plaintiff's treating physicians, Dr. Bradley Jones. Specifically, plaintiff alleges that the ALJ improperly rejected portions of Dr. Bradley's medical opinion "without explanation or rationale." The Commissioner filed an opposition to plaintiff's motion and a cross-motion for summary judgment. (Dkt. No. 18.)
For the reasons that follow, the court will deny plaintiff's motion for summary judgment, grant the Commissioner's cross-motion for summary judgment, and direct the Clerk of Court to enter judgment in favor of the Commissioner.
Plaintiff was 47 years old on the alleged disability onset date, and was 50 years old at the time that the ALJ's entered his decision partially granting plaintiff's application for Disability Insurance Benefits. (See Administrative Transcript ("AT") 20.) Plaintiff attended high school through the tenth grade and obtained a GED while serving in the United States Navy. (AT 45.) Plaintiff previously worked as an ordnance supervisor in the Navy, a warehouse employee, and a cemetery groundskeeper/landscaper. (AT 20, 45, 47-50, 114-17.) On or about August 2, 2005, plaintiff, who was then employed as a groundskeeper, ceased working due to increasing low back pain that caused shooting pain down his legs and trouble with walking. (AT 46-47, 50, 54.) Plaintiff's back condition ultimately resulted in two surgeries. (AT 50-51, 54.)
On July 10, 2006, plaintiff filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits alleging a disability onset date of August 2, 2005. (AT 87-91.) The Social Security Administration denied plaintiff's application initially and upon reconsideration. (AT 67-68.) Plaintiff filed a request for a hearing before an ALJ, and the ALJ conducted a hearing regarding plaintiff's claim on June 16, 2008. (AT 40-66, 83.) Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel at the hearing, testified at the hearing. A vocational expert also testified at the hearing.
In a decision dated September 17, 2008, the ALJ granted plaintiff's application in part, concluding that plaintiff was not disabled until his fiftieth birthday, or February 11, 2008. (See AT 15-22.) As discussed below, the ALJ determined that plaintiff was able to perform jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy until his fiftieth birthday, but that upon turning 50 years old, plaintiff was considered disabled by direct application of Medical-Vocational Rule 201.14.*fn3 (AT 21-22.) The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review. (AT 1-3.) Plaintiff subsequently filed this action.
B. Summary of the ALJ's Findings
The ALJ conducted the required five-step, sequential evaluation and concluded that plaintiff was disabled within the meaning of the Act, but only as of February 11, 2008. (AT 22.) At step one, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 2, 2005, the alleged date of onset. (AT 17.) At step two, he concluded that plaintiff had the "severe" impairment of "degenerative disc disease." (AT 17.) At step three, the ALJ found that plaintiff's did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled any impairment listed in the applicable regulations. (AT 17.)
The ALJ next assessed plaintiff's residual functional capacity ("RFC"). The ALJ found that:
[T]he claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 4040.1567(a) except that he can lift, carry, push, and pull 15 pounds occasionally, and 10 pounds frequently. The claimant can sit for 8 hours, and stand and walk for 2 hours, in 30 minute increments, in an 8 hour day. The claimant cannot use foot pedals. He can occasionally perform activities requiring overhead reaching, stooping, crouching, and kneeling.
(AT 17-18.)*fn4 In reaching this conclusion, the ALJ also discounted plaintiff's statements regarding the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of his symptoms or impairments as not fully credible.*fn5 (AT 19.)
At step four, the ALJ found that plaintiff's RFC precluded plaintiff from performing his past relevant work as a munitions supervisor or landscape gardener. (AT 20.) At step five, the ALJ drew a distinction between the period when plaintiff was age 47 through 49, or a "younger individual" under the age categories provided in the applicable regulations, and when plaintiff turned 50 years old and thus became "an individual closely approaching advanced age." (AT 20.) As to the former period, the ALJ found, relying on the testimony of the vocational expert, that plaintiff could perform work as a "cashier II," an "information clerk," and a document preparer, jobs which existed in significant numbers in the national economy. (AT 21.) However, the ALJ concluded that once plaintiff turned 50 years old, Medical-Vocational Rule (also referred to as a ...