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Scott v. Commissioner of Social Security

June 1, 2009

WILLIE SCOTT, III, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

On March 31, 2008, Magistrate Judge Homer recommended that this Court grant Defendant's cross-motion and affirm the Commissioner's decision to deny disability benefits and deny Plaintiff's motion for a finding of disability. See Dkt. No. 12 at 29. Currently before the Court are Plaintiff's objections to Magistrate Judge Homer's Report-Recommendation and Order on the following grounds: (1) Magistrate Judge Homer erred in concurring with the Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ") finding that Plaintiff's gout and carpal tunnel syndrome were not severe; and (2) Magistrate Judge Homer erred in concluding that, despite the ALJ's error in applying the incorrect legal standard to determine whether Plaintiff's learning disability and intellectual functioning constituted a severe impairment, the error did not vitiate the ALJ's ultimate determination. See Dkt. No. 13.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Standard of Review

In reviewing the Commissioner's final decision, a court reviews that decision to determine whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standards and whether substantial evidence supports the decision. See Charlton v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., No. 08-CV-142, 2009 WL 838118, *2 (N.D.N.Y. Mar. 26, 2009) (citation omitted). Substantial evidence means relevant evidence a reasonable mind might find sufficient to support a conclusion. See id. (quotation omitted). "'In addition, an ALJ must set forth the crucial factors justifying his findings with sufficient specificity to allow a court to determine whether substantial evidence supports the decision.'" Id. (quoting Barringer v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 358 F. Supp. 2d 67, 72 (N.D.N.Y. 2005)).

Where a party makes specific objections to a magistrate judge's report, district courts engage in de novo review of the issues raised in the objections. See Farid v. Bouey, 554 F. Supp. 2d 301, 307 (N.D.N.Y. 2008). "'If, however, the party makes only conclusory or general objections, or simply reiterates his original arguments, the Court reviews the Report and Recommendation only for clear error.'" Id. at 306 (quoting McAllan v. Von Essen, 517 F. Supp. 2d 672, 679 (S.D.N.Y. 2007)) (footnote omitted).

B. The Severity of Plaintiff's Impairments

Magistrate Judge Homer noted that the ALJ found that Plaintiff's transient gout attacks did not qualify as a severe impairment that would preclude basic work activities. Magistrate Judge Homer found that the medical record supported this finding because in 2001 and 2002 Plaintiff continued to work despite his gout. He further found that the medical records showed that Plaintiff's gout was managed with diet and medication. Accordingly, he found that substantial evidence supported the ALJ's decision.

Magistrate Judge Homer also noted that, although Plaintiff was diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome and given wrist braces, Plaintiff never performed further diagnostic testing and, accordingly, there was no medical evidence of an impairment of basic work functions.

With respect to Plaintiff's asserted learning disability and intellectual functioning, Magistrate Judge Homer found that the ALJ incorrectly found that Plaintiff's learning disability and borderline intellectual functioning did not constitute a severe impairment because the ALJ (1) improperly used Plaintiff's previous work experience to justify the decision; (2) expressed reasoning not supported by case law; and (3) illogically found that the inability to read would only have a minimal effect on the ability to understand and carry out instructions. See Dkt. No. 12 at 21. However, Magistrate Judge Homer found that this error did not vitiate the ALJ's ultimate determination, which was supported by substantial evidence. See id. at 21-22.

To support his claim that his gout meets Step Two's severity standard, Plaintiff argues that this standard exists only to screen out de minimus claims and the fact that he had to make nine emergency room trips sufficiently suggests significant limitations.*fn1 Plaintiff argues that the diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome was also sufficient to pass the severity test.

With respect to his learning disability, Plaintiff argues that the error that Magistrate Judge Homer noted requires remand and that Plaintiff may be able to equal the limitations of Listing 12.05(c). See Dkt. No. 13 at 4-5.

Although Plaintiff couches his arguments regarding his alleged gout, carpal tunnel syndrome, and his learning disability in terms of whether the ALJ erred at Step Two of the disability analysis, the real issue appears to be whether the ALJ properly considered Plaintiff's learning disability and intellectual ...


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