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Christiana v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

March 19, 2008

JOSEPH CHRISTIANA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gary L. Sharpe U.S. District Judge

DECISION AND ORDER

I. Introduction

Plaintiff Joseph F. Christiana alleges that back injuries, Bell's Palsy, morbid obesity, blindness of the right eye, and recurrent bronchitis have disabled him, and challenges the denial of benefits by the Commissioner of Social Security. Having reviewed the administrative record, the court remands the Commissioner's decision for proper evaluation of Plaintiff's residual functional capacity.

II. Procedural History

After Christiana filed for social security disability insurance ("SSDI") benefits in January 2003, his application was denied, and a hearing was conducted by Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Karl Alexander on May 3, 2004. (Tr. at 40-43, 51-53, 201-30).*fn1 In May 2004, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits, which became the Commissioner's final determination when the Appeals Council denied review on June 22, 2005. (Tr. at 5-8, 22-31).

On July 26, 2005, Christiana brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking review of the Commissioner's final determination.

(Dkt. No. 1). The Commissioner then filed an answer and a certified administrative transcript, Christiana filed a brief, and the Commissioner responded.(Dkt. Nos. 5, 6, 7, 12).

III. Contentions

Christiana contends that the Commissioner's decision is not supported by substantial evidence. He claims the ALJ improperly (1) determined that certain of his alleged impairments were not severe within the meaning of the regulations; (2) determined Plaintiff's residual functional capacity ("RFC"); (3) relied on vocational expert ("VE") testimony to find that Plaintiff was able to perform his past relevant work; and (4) evaluated Plaintiff's credibility. Pl.'s Br. Dkt. No. 7, at 5-10. The Commissioner counters that substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision. (Def.'s Br., Dkt. No. 12, at 14-22).

IV. Facts

The evidence in this case is undisputed and the court adopts the parties' factual recitations. See Pl.'s Br. at 3-5; Def.'s Br. at 2-6.

V. Discussion

A. Standard and Scope of Review

When reviewing the Commissioner's final decision under 42 U.S.C. 405(g),*fn2 the court "must determine whether the correct legal standards were applied and whether substantial evidence supports the decision." Butts v. Barnhart, 388 F.3d 377, 384 (2d Cir. 2004) (citation omitted). It does not determine de novo whether a claimant is disabled. See Curry v. Apfel, 209 F.3d 117, 122 (2d Cir. 2000) (citation omitted). 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. See Pollard v. Halter, 377 F.3d 183, 188-89 (2d Cir. 2004) ...


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