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Gunter v. Astrue

August 1, 2008

JOSEPH L. GUNTER, JR., PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Denise Cote, District Judge

OPINION & ORDER

Plaintiff Joseph L. Gunter, Jr. ("Gunter") brings this action pro se pursuant to Sections 205(g) and 1631(c) of the Social Security Act (the "Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) & 1383(c), seeking review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying him Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits as provided for under the Act.

The Commissioner moves for judgment on the pleadings on the ground that substantial evidence of record supports the Commissioner's decision that Gunter failed to demonstrate that he was disabled within the meaning of the Act during the period at issue. Gunter has not submitted opposition to the Commissioner's motion. For the following reasons, the motion is granted.

BACKGROUND

The following facts are taken from the administrative record and are undisputed. Gunter is currently 49 years old and, at the time of the filing of this complaint, was living in temporary housing. Gunter testified that he earned his general equivalency diploma and completed two years of college in an electronics technician program. He also served in the United States Army and received two honorable discharges. On April 23, 2004, Gunter filed applications for SSI benefits, claiming that he became unable to work due to a disability on February 2, 2002. Gunter elaborated on his physical ailments in a disability report, dated May 20, 2004, in which he listed worn cartilage in both knees, bone chips in both ankles, shoulder pain, and cramps and tingling in his left arm as conditions limiting his ability to work. Gunter also testified that he worked as an electronics technician for various private companies from January 1989 until the onset of his alleged disability in February 2002.

DISCUSSION

I. Standard of Review

In reviewing a decision of the Commissioner, a court may "enter, upon the pleadings and transcript of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the [Commissioner], with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing." 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). A determination of the ALJ may be set aside only if it is based upon legal error or is not supported by substantial evidence. Rosa v. Callahan, 168 F.3d 72, 77 (2d Cir. 1999). "Substantial evidence" is "more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Halloran v. Barnhart, 362 F.3d 28, 31 (2d Cir. 2004) (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). Furthermore, if the findings of the Commissioner as to any fact are supported by substantial evidence, those findings are conclusive, Diaz v. Shalala, 59 F.3d 307, 312 (2d Cir. 1995); thus, the reviewing court does not decide the case de novo. Halloran, 362 F.3d at 31.

The Commissioner will find a claimant disabled under the Act if the claimant demonstrates the "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). The claimant's impairment must be of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy, regardless of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or whether he would be hired if he applied for work. For purposes of the preceding sentence (with respect to any individual), "work which exists in the national economy" means work which exists in significant numbers in either the region where such individual lives or in several regions of the country.

Id. § 423(d)(2)(A). The disability must be "demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques." Id. § 423(d)(3).

The Commissioner uses a five-step process when making disability determinations. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520 & 416.920. The Second Circuit has described the process as follows:

First, the Commissioner considers whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity. Where the claimant is not, the Commissioner next considers whether the claimant has a "severe impairment" that significantly limits her physical or mental ability to do basic work activities. If the claimant suffers such an impairment, the third inquiry is whether, based solely on medical evidence, the claimant has an impairment that is listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Assuming the claimant does not have a listed impairment, the fourth inquiry is whether, despite the claimant's severe impairment, she has the residual functional capacity to perform her past work. Finally, if the claimant is unable to perform her past work, the burden then shifts to the Commissioner to determine whether there is other work which the claimant could perform.

Jasinski v. Barnhart, 341 F.3d 182, 183-84 (2d Cir. 2003) (citation omitted). A claimant bears the burden of proof as to the first four steps, while the Commissioner bears the burden in the final step. Schaal v. Apfel, 134 F.3d 496, 501 (2d Cir. 1998).

In making an evaluation, an ALJ must "carefully consider the individual's statements about symptoms" along with all of the other evidence in the case record, and must make findings about the credibility of the claimant's statements. See Evaluations of Symptoms in Disability Claims: Assessing the Credibility of an Individual's Statements, Social Security Ruling 96-7p, 61 Fed. Reg. 34,483, 34,484 (July 2, 1996). "An individual's statements about the intensity and persistence of pain or other symptoms or about the effect the symptoms have on his or her ability to work may not be disregarded solely ...


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