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Magee v. Astrue

February 25, 2009

JAMES K. MAGEE, JR., PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY,*FN1 DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John F. Keenan, United States District Judge

Memorandum Opinion & Order

This is an action for review of the Commissioner's decision that plaintiff James K. Magee, Jr., is not entitled to disability insurance benefits. Currently pending are cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings. For the reasons below, the Commissioner's motion is granted, and plaintiff's motion is denied.

Background

Magee suffers from knee problems and claims that he has been unable to work since October 9, 2001. At the time of the onset of his alleged disability, he was thirty-two years old, had a college degree, and was working as head custodian in the school district of Goshen, N.Y.

On February 19, 2003, Magee filed an application for disability insurance benefits under the Social Security Act (the "Act"). After his application was denied at the initial level of review, he requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"). The hearing was held on January 21, 2005. Plaintiff attended it represented by counsel. The evidence presented to the ALJ consisted of plaintiff's medical records, which included a functional assessment by a treating physician, and plaintiff's own testimony about his limitations.

On February 15, 2005, the ALJ denied Magee's claim after applying the five-step sequential analysis set forth in the Social Security Regulations (the "Regulations"). See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920; Berry v. Schweiker, 675 F.2d 464, 467 (2d Cir. 1982) (per curiam). At the first step, the ALJ found that Magee had not engaged in "substantial gainful activity" during the alleged disability period. Although Magee briefly returned to his custodial job in December 2002 and again in January 2003, these attempts to resume his past work proved unsuccessful. At steps two and three, the ALJ found that Magee's knee impairment was severe but that it did not render him presumptively disabled because it was not one of the impairments listed in the Regulations. See 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1.

At step four, the ALJ reviewed the record medical evidence and hearing testimony and made a determination of Magee's residual functional capacity. The ALJ concluded that, although Magee's knee impairment inhibited him from performing his past work as a custodian, he retained the ability to perform the full range of "sedentary work" as it is defined in the Regulations. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(a). Specifically, the ALJ found that, in an eight-hour workday on a sustained basis, Magee had the capability to sit for a total of eight hours, to stand or walk for a total of four hours, and to lift up to twenty pounds. Finally, considering Magee's capacity for sedentary work together with his age, education, and work experience, the ALJ concluded that Magee was not disabled pursuant to the Medical Vocational Guidelines. See 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 2, tbl. 1, Rs. 201.27-201.29.

On January 20, 2006, Magee brought this action for review of the ALJ's decision. Thereafter, the parties filed the instant cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings. The main issue is whether or not substantial evidence supports the ALJ's determination that plaintiff was capable of sedentary work during the alleged disability period, from October 9, 2001, until the date of the hearing. Plaintiff also disputes the adequacy of his hearing on the ground that there was no medical advisor or vocational expert present.

In connection with the motions, each side has submitted evidence post-dating the administrative hearing. For his part, Magee has submitted a medical record indicating that he underwent a third arthroscopic surgery of his right knee on or about July 21, 2005, about five months after the ALJ's decision.

The Commissioner has submitted a press release announcing the September 2006 publication of a political-suspense novel written by Magee, entitled To Serve & Protect. The press release suggests that plaintiff has recovered quite well from his alleged disability. It reports that that he received a master's degree in 2005, but opted to postpone pursuing a Ph.D. so that he could work on his next novel. It further discloses that the author "enjoys weight lifting, swimming, tennis, [and] traveling," in addition to being a "sports car enthusiast" and an "avid and published photographer." Although interesting, and perhaps even telling, the press release need not factor into the Court's analysis.

As discussed below, the Court finds that substantial evidence in the record supports the ALJ's determination that plaintiff was capable of sedentary work, and that plaintiff received an adequate hearing.

Discussion

I. Applicable Legal Standards and Scope of Review

Under the Social Security Act, "disability" means an "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment ... which 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 impairment must be of 'such severity that [the claimant] 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.'" Shaw v. Chater, 221 F.3d 126, 131-32 (2d Cir. 2000) (quoting 42 U.S.C. ยง 423(d)(2)(A)). The ...


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