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HUNT v. COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY

July 1, 2004.

MARY JANE HUNT, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: GARY SHARPE, Magistrate Judge

DECISION AND ORDER

I. Introduction

  Mary Hunt alleges that osteoarthritis and obesity have disabled her, and challenges the Commissioner's denial of disability insurance and supplemental security income benefits prior to her fifty-fifth birthday.*fn1 Having reviewed the administrative record, the court concludes that the Commissioner's decision was based on substantial evidence, and affirms.

  II. Procedural History

  After Hunt filed for disability benefits in June 1998, her application was denied, and a hearing was conducted by Administrative Law Judge Thomas Zolezzi (ALJ). In February 1999, the ALJ issued a decision partially*fn2 denying benefits, which became the Commissioner's final determination when the Appeals Council denied review on April 15, 2000.

  On May 8, 2000, Hunt brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking review of the Commissioner's final determination. The Commissioner then filed an answer and a certified administrative transcript,*fn3 Hunt filed a brief, and the Commissioner responded.

  III. Contentions

  Hunt contends that the Commissioner's*fn4 decision is not supported by substantial evidence. She claims that the ALJ: (1) reached a determination unsupported by the medical evidence; (2) disregarded the opinions of her treating physicians; (3) failed to set specific factors in assessing her Residual Functional Capacity (RFC); and (4) improperly evaluated her subjective complaints and symptoms.*fn5 The Commissioner counters that substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision that Hunt was not disabled.

  IV. Facts

  The evidence in this case is not in dispute and the court incorporates the parties' factual recitations. See Pl.'s Br., pp. 2-6, Dkt. No. 10; Def.'s Br., pp. 4-6, Dkt. No. 11. V. Discussion

  A. Standard and Scope of Review

  When reviewing the Commissioner's final decision, the court must determine whether the correct legal standards were applied and whether substantial evidence supports the decision. Urtz v. Callahan, 965 F. Supp. 324, 326 (N.D.N.Y. 1997) (citing Johnson v. Bowen, 817 F.2d 983, 985 (2d Cir. 1987)). Although the Commissioner is ultimately responsible for determining a claimant's eligibility, the actual disability determination is made by an ALJ, and that decision is subject to judicial review on appeal. A court may not affirm an ALJ's decision if it reasonably doubts whether the proper legal standards were applied, even if it appears to be supported by substantial evidence. Johnson, 817 F.2d at 986. In addition, an ALJ must set forth the crucial factors justifying his findings with sufficient specificity to allow a court to determine whether substantial evidence supports the decision. Ferraris v. Heckler, 728 F.2d 582, 587 (2d Cir. 1984).

  A court's factual review of the Commissioner's decision is limited to the determination of whether substantial evidence in the record supports the decision. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); see Rivera v. Sullivan, 923 F.2d 964, 967 (2d Cir. 1991). "Substantial evidence has been defined as such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Williams ex rel Williams v. Bowen, 859 F.2d 255, 258 (2d Cir. 1988) (citations omitted). It must be "more than a mere scintilla" of evidence scattered throughout the administrative record. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)); Alston v. Sullivan, 904 F.2d 122, 126 (2d Cir. 1990). "To determine on appeal whether an ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence, a reviewing court considers the whole record, examining the evidence from both sides because an analysis of the substantiality of the evidence must also include that which detracts from its weight." Williams, 859 F.2d at 258. However, a reviewing court cannot substitute its interpretation of the administrative record for that of the Commissioner if the record contains substantial support for the ALJ's decision. Blalock v. Richardson, 483 F.2d 773, 775 (4th Cir. 1972); see also Rutherford v. Schweiker, 685 F.2d 60, 62 (2d Cir. 1982).

  The court has authority to reverse with or without remand 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Remand is appropriate where there are gaps in the record or further development of the evidence is needed. See Parker v. Harris, 626 F.2d 225, 235 (2d Cir. 1980); Cutler v. Weinberger, 516 F.2d 1282, 1287 (2d Cir. 1975) (remand to permit claimant to produce further evidence). In order to "ensure that the correct legal principles are applied in evaluating disability claims . . . th[e Second C]ircuit recognizes the appropriateness of remanding cases because of the lack of specificity of an ALJ's decision." Knapp v. Apfel, 11 F. Supp.2d 235, 238 (N.D.N.Y. 1998) (citing Johnson, 817 F.2d at 985). Reversal is appropriate, however, when there is "persuasive proof of disability" in the record and remand for further evidentiary development would not serve any purpose. Parker, 626 F.2d at 235; Simmons v. United States R.R. Ret. Bd., 982 F.2d 49, 57 (2d Cir. 1992); Carroll v. Sec'y of HHS, 705 F.2d 638, 644 ...


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