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Soto v. Astrue

June 22, 2009

PETER O. SOTO, 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 Peter O. Soto ("Plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), claiming that the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner" or "Defendant") improperly denied his application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that the decision of Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") John P. Costello denying his application for benefits was not supported by substantial evidence on the record and was contrary to applicable legal standards.

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 legally correct and founded in substantial evidence, while Plaintiff claims that the decision was legally erroneous and factually unsupported 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 filed for DIB and SSI on April 13, 2005, claiming a disability onset date of February 1, 2005. (Tr. 58.) Specifically, Plaintiff alleged that back problems and a rotator cuff injury limited his ability to engage in employment. (Tr. 61.) His application was denied, and he timely requested a hearing before an ALJ. (Tr. 38-43.) Plaintiff attended that hearing, with counsel, on January 29, 2008. (Tr. 225.) At that time, Plaintiff was 46 years old, and the highest level he had attended in school was the sixth grade. (Tr. 230, 232-33.) His past work consisted of employment as a cleaner, housekeeping supervisor, mixing machine operator, inspector, and dining room attendant. (Tr. 260.) For the purposes of the hearing, the ALJ assumed that Plaintiff was unable to read or write in English. (Id.)

In a ruling dated February 26, 2008, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (Tr. 13-23.) This ruling became the Commissioner's final decision when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (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 That Plaintiff is not Disabled is Supported by Substantial Evidence in the Record

To meet the statutory definition of disabled, 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 expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). When determining whether an applicant for benefits is indeed disabled, the Commissioner utilizes a five-step evaluation. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. If ...


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