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Martin v. Astrue

September 9, 2008

NICOLE MARTIN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Scullin, Senior Judge

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Currently before the Court are Magistrate Judge Lowe's Report and Recommendation and Plaintiff's objections thereto.

II. BACKGROUND

On October 30, 2001, Plaintiff filed an application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") and disability insurance benefits, alleging disability due to a herniated and bulging disc in the L5-S1 region. See Administrative Record ("Tr.") at 66-68. Defendant initially denied Plaintiff's application. See id. at 23-28. Plaintiff then requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"), which was held on July 8, 2003. See id. at 29, 207-27. On October 14, 2003, the ALJ issued a decision, holding that Plaintiff was not disabled. See id. at 16-22. The ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on October 13, 2004. See id. at 6-8

Plaintiff commenced this action on January 21, 2005, seeking judicial review of Defendant's final decision. See Dkt. No. 1. Plaintiff argued that the ALJ erred in the following respects: (1) in determining that Plaintiff's obesity was not a severe impairment; (2) in determining that Plaintiff was capable of sedentary work; (3) in failing to give controlling weight to the opinion of a treating source; (4) in finding that Plaintiff's subjective complaints were only partially credible; and (5) in solely using the Medical Vocational Guidelines ("Grids") to determine that Plaintiff was not disabled when non-exertional impairments existed. See generally Dkt. No. 5.

After reviewing the ALJ's decision in light of Plaintiff's objections, Magistrate Judge Lowe recommended that this Court affirm Defendant's decision and dismiss the complaint. See Dkt. No. 8 at 24.

Plaintiff objects to Magistrate Judge Lowe's Report and Recommendation. First, Plaintiff claims that Magistrate Judge Lowe erred by not holding the ALJ to the appropriate legal standards set forth in Social Security Ruling ("SSR") 02-1p in evaluating Plaintiff's obesity at steps two through five of the five-step sequential evaluation process. See Plaintiff's Objections at 1-3. Moreover, Plaintiff contends that Magistrate Judge Lowe failed to hold the ALJ to the appropriate legal standard applicable to the treating physician rule. See id. at 3-4.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Standard of Review

In reviewing a Commissioner's final decision, a district court must determine if the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards and if there is substantial evidence in the record to support that decision. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Shaw v. Chater, 221 F.3d 126, 131 (2d Cir. 2000). However, a reviewing court may not affirm an ALJ's decision if it reasonably doubts that the ALJ applied the proper legal standards even if there is substantial evidence in the record to support that decision. See Johnson v. Bowen, 817 F.2d 983, 986 (2d Cir. 1987).

A court's factual review of the Commissioner's final decision is limited to the determination of whether substantial evidence exists in the record to support the decision. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Rivera v. Sullivan, 923 F.2d 964, 967 (2d Cir. 1991). "Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla[;] [i]t means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Consol. Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938). Furthermore, a court may not substitute its interpretation of the administrative record for that of the Commissioner if the substantial evidence in the record supports the Commissioner's decision. See Martone v. Apfel, 70 F. Supp. 2d 145, 148 (N.D.N.Y. 1999).

Moreover, in a case in which a magistrate judge issues a Report and Recommendation and a party properly files objections to that report, "the district court shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report to which the objections are made." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). The district court shall also review for clear error those portions of the report to which neither party objects. See Turley v. Britton, No. 9:03-CV-1425, 2007 WL 625983, *2 (N.D.N.Y. Feb. 24, 2007); see also 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A) ("A judge of the court may reconsider any pretrial matter . . . where it has been shown that the magistrate judge's order is clearly erroneous or contrary to law").

B. Disability Determination

Individuals seeking disability insurance or SSI benefits must establish that they are "unable 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 which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months." 42 U.S.C. ยง 1382c(a)(3)(A). Additionally, "for the purposes just stated," individuals are disabled if their physical or mental impairments are so severe that they cannot perform their previous work and they cannot engage in "any other ...


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