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DiMartino v. Astrue

June 10, 2009

JOSEPH A. DIMARTINO, 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

Plaintiff Joseph A. DiMartino ("Plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act, claiming that the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner" or "Defendant") improperly denied his application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"). Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that the decision of Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") O. Price Dodson denying his application for benefits was not supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole and was contrary to applicable legal standards.

Both Plaintiff and Defendant each move for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c) ("Rule 12(c)"). Defendant claims that the ALJ's decision was founded in substantial evidence, while Plaintiff claims that the decision was erroneous and not supported by the record. For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds that the ALJ's decision was supported by substantial evidence and was in accordance with applicable legal standards. The Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings is therefore granted.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff initially filed an application for DIB on February 5, 2004, claiming he had been unable to work full time since July 1, 1999, due to anxiety and depression. (Tr. 49-51, 74-83.) That application was denied, and Plaintiff filed another application on August 25, 2004. (Tr. 36, 114). The Social Security Administration again denied his application on January 5, 2005 following which Plaintiff timely requested a hearing before an ALJ. (Tr. 41-45.)

Plaintiff subsequently appeared, with counsel, at a hearing before an ALJ on July 20, 2006. (Tr. 296-314.) At that time, Plaintiff was 49 years old, held a high school equivalency degree, and had been working part-time as a cleaner since 1989. (Tr. 300-01.) During the hearing, Plaintiff's counsel amended his alleged onset date of disability to March 2003. (Tr. 299.) On September 26, 2006, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled under sections 216(i) and 223(d) of the Social Security Act, concluding that Plaintiff was ineligible to collect DIB. (Tr. 13-22.) The ALJ's finding became the Commissioner's final decision when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on April 23, 2007. (Tr. 4-6.) This action followed.

DISCUSSION

I. Jurisdiction and Scope of Review

Federal District Courts have jurisdiction to hear claims based on the denial of Social Security benefits. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Section 405(g) further specifies that the Court does not review such a claim de novo, but rather must accept the Commissioner's findings of fact if those findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record. Schaal v. Apfel, 134 F.3d 496, 501 (2d Cir. 1998). Substantial evidence is defined as "more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938). The Court's review is therefore limited to whether the Commissioner's conclusions were supported by substantial evidence and based on proper legal standards. Clark v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 143 F.3d 115, 118 (2d Cir. 1998); Cruz v. Sullivan, 912 F.2d 8, 11 (2d Cir. 1990) (citing § 405(g)); see Butts v. Barnhart, 388 F.3d 377 (2d Cir. 2004).

When evaluating whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence, the Court must "examine the entire record, including contradictory evidence and evidence from which conflicting inferences can be drawn." Brown v. Apfel, 174 F.3d 59, 62 (2d Cir. 1999) (quoting Mongeur v. Heckler, 722 F.2d 1033, 1038 (2d Cir. 1983). However, where substantial evidence does support the Commissioner's conclusions, the Court may not substitute its own judgment regarding the facts. Jones v. Sullivan, 949 F.2d 57, 59 (2d Cir. 1991).

Each party to this action moves for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c). Such a judgment may be granted where the material facts are undisputed and where judgment on the merits is possible merely by considering the contents of the pleadings. Sellers v. M.C. Floor Crafters, Inc., 842 F.2d 639, 642 (2d Cir. 1988). If, after a review of the pleadings, the Court is convinced that Plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim that would entitle him to relief, then judgment on the pleadings in favor of Defendant may be appropriate. See Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957).

II. The Commissioner's Decision Is Supported By Substantial Evidence

In order to be eligible for DIB, a claimant must show that he "cannot 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 ...


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