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Thornwell v. Astrue

December 12, 2008

ALBERT B. THORNWELL, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael A. Telesca United States District Judge

DECISION and ORDER

INTRODUCTION

Albert B. Thornwell ("Plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the Social Security Act ("the Act") seeking reversal of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("the Commissioner") which determined that Plaintiff is not entitled to disability benefits under the Act. The Plaintiff alleges that the decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Raymond J. Zadzilko, denying his application for a period of disability insurance benefits under §§ 216(i) and 223(d) of the Act was against the weight of the substantial evidence in the record and contrary to applicable legal standards.

The Commissioner moves for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c) ("Rule 12(c)"), on the grounds that the ALJ's decision was supported by substantial evidence. Plaintiff opposes the Commissioner's motion, and cross-moves for judgment on the pleadings, on the grounds that the Commissioner's decision was erroneous. The Court finds that the decision of the Commissioner, for the reasons set forth below, is supported by substantial evidence, and is in accordance with applicable law. Therefore, the Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings is hereby granted, and the Plaintiff's motion is denied.

BACKGROUND

On August 9, 2004, Plaintiff filed an application for a period of disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under Title II, § 216 (i) and § 223 of the Social Security Act, alleging a disability since December 11, 1998 which was amended to April 7, 2003. Plaintiff's application was initially denied on September 16, 2004 and he filed a timely request for a hearing on October 27, 2004. On June 7, 2005, Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified at a hearing before ALJ Zadzilko in Buffalo, New York. (Tr. 12.)

The ALJ determined that the Plaintiff last met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act on June 30, 2003. He also determined that the Plaintiff had not engaged in any substantial gainful activity at any time relevant to his decision (20 C.F.R. 404.1520(b)).

The issue is whether substantial evidence supported the Commissioner's decision that Plaintiff was not under a disability through June 30, 2003, the date he last met the insured status requirements for DIB under the Act.

DISCUSSION

A. Scope of Judicial Review

The Social Security Act states that upon review of the Commissioner's decision by the district court, "[t]he findings of the Commissioner . . . as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive . . . ." 42 U.S.C. §405(g). Substantial evidence is that which a "reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion". Consolidated Edison Co. of New York, Inc. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938).

Under this standard, the scope of judicial review of the Commissioner's decision is limited. This Court may not try the case de novo, nor substitute its findings for those of the Commissioner. Townley v. Heckler, 748 F. 2d 109, 112 (2d Cir. 1984). Rather, the Commissioner's decision is only set aside when it is based on legal error or is not supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. Balsamo v. Chater, 142 F. 3d 75, 79 (2d Cir. 1998). If supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's finding must be sustained "even where substantial evidence may support the Plaintiff's position and despite that the Court's independent analysis of the evidence may differ" from that of the Commissioner. Martin v. Shalala, 1995 WL 222059, *5 (W.D.N.Y. 1995).

However, before deciding whether the Commissioner's determination is supported by substantial evidence, the court must first determine "whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standard". Tejada v. Apfel, 167 F. 3d 770, 773 (2d Cir. 1999). "Failure to apply the correct ...


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