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Goff v. Commissioner of Social Security

November 21, 2008


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


I. Introduction

Calvin Goff ("Goff") challenges the Commissioner of Social Security's determination denying him disability benefits for the period of January 22, 2004 through February 16, 2005. Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), Goff seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's determination. Having reviewed the administrative record, the court now affirms the Commissioner's final decision.

II. Procedural History

Goff applied for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits on August 25, 2003, claiming he had been disabled since November 26, 2002 due to an injury he sustained to his right foot in an automobile accident. See (Tr. 42 and 44).*fn1 After a hearing on April 29, 2005, Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Joseph F. Gibbons determined Goff was disabled as defined by the Social Security Act ("the Act") for the limited period of November 26, 2002 through January 21, 2004. See (Tr. 48). However, the ALJ determined Goff had a medical improvement on January 21, 2004, and was no longer disabled. Id. On January 12, 2006, the ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision when the Appeals Council denied Goff's request for review. See (Tr. 4).*fn2 Goff now seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's decision.

III. Contentions

Goff, who on this appeal proceeds pro se, filed no formal brief, but filed a letter which the court has liberally construed as his contentions on appeal. (See Dkt. No. 10.) In his letter, Goff contends the ALJ erred in his April 29, 2005 decision denying him disability benefits after January 21, 2004. The Commissioner counters, arguing substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision.

IV. Facts

The evidence in this case is not in dispute, and the court incorporates the parties' factual recitations and the facts contained in the ALJ's decision. (See Def's Br.pp. 5-6; Dkt. No. 10) and (Tr. 43-47).

V. Discussion

A. Standard and Scope of Review

"In reviewing a final decision of the Commissioner, a district court must determine whether the correct legal standards were applied and whether substantial evidence supports the decision." See Butts v. Barnhart, 388 F.3d 377, 384 (2d Cir. 2004) (citation omitted). The district court, however, examining the ALJ's decision, does not make a disability determination de novo. 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. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). 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 Johnson v. Bowen, 817 F.2d 983, 986 (2d Cir. 1987).

A court's factual review of the Commissioner's "findings is limited to assessing whether substantial evidence in the record supports those findings." See Rivera v. Sullivan, 923 F.2d 964, 967 (2d Cir. 1991) (citations omitted). "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. Id. "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." Id. 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. See Rutherford v. Schweiker, 685 F.2d 60, 62 (2d Cir. 1982).

The court has authority to reverse with or without remand. See 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 Butts, 388 F.3d at 385 (citing Rosa v. Callahan, 168 F.3d 72, 82-83 (2d Cir. 1999). Reversal is appropriate, however, "when the record provides persuasive proof of disability and a remand for ...

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