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Snyder v. Astrue

July 14, 2009

LINDA M. SNYDER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Richard J. Arcara Chief Judge United States District Court

DECISION AND ORDER

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Linda Snyder commenced the instant action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), on May 17, 2007, seeking review of a final determination of the defendant, Michael Astrue, the Commissioner of Social Security (the "Commissioner"), disallowing plaintiff's claim for disability insurance benefits under the Social Security Act. The Commissioner moves for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c), on grounds that the Administrative Law Judge's (ALJ's) decision was supported by substantial evidence. Plaintiff opposes the Commissioner's motion and alleges that the ALJ's determination that she is not disabled is erroneous. Plaintiff claims to be disabled as a result of right foot disorder, back pain, and various mental impairments, including bipolar disorder, depression, and anxiety. For the reasons stated herein, the Court finds that the plaintiff is not entitled to benefits because substantial evidence supports the ALJ's determination that she is not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Therefore, the ALJ's decision is affirmed.

BACKGROUND

On September 18, 2003, plaintiff Linda M. Snyder, applied for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). (R. 60-62).*fn1 The plaintiff graduated from high school, completed one year of college, and, at the time of the ALJ hearing, lived with her four children, ages two through twelve. (R. 80, 381). The plaintiff last worked as a certified nursing assistant until October 2002, at which time she stopped working because she became pregnant. (R. 75, 382). At the time of the hearing, the plaintiff spent her average day caring for her two year old child, doing laundry, cooking, and shopping with a rolling cart. (R. 389, 396-97). In her initial application, plaintiff alleged that she was disabled beginning October 1, 2002, alleging disability because of a large scar on the bottom of her foot, which made it painful to walk. (R. 74). Plaintiff later also alleged disability resulting from depression. (R. 86).

After her claim was denied on February 25, 2004, a hearing was held before ALJ William J. Reddy on September 14, 2005, at which the plaintiff was represented by counsel. (R. 50-53, 375-407). Plaintiff and James Phillips, an impartial vocational expert, appeared and testified at the hearing. Id. In a decision dated October 28, 2005, the ALJ found that although the plaintiff's right foot disorder and back disorder were severe impairments, she was not disabled within the meaning of the Act and thus not entitled to receive Social Security benefits. (R. 28). Additionally, the ALJ found that her depression was not a severe impairment and that her allegations as to the severity of her symptoms and limitations in relation to her ability to perform basic work activities were not fully credible or supported by the evidence of record. (R. 28).

On November 30, 2005, plaintiff requested that the Appeals Council review the ALJ's decision. (R. 15-17). On March 26, 2007, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review and, thus, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. (R. 6-8). Plaintiff then commenced this action on May 17, 2007. The Commissioner filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings on February 25, 2008, and the plaintiff filed her response to the motion on July 3, 2008.

DISCUSSION

This Court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. § 405 (g) to hear claims based on the denial of Social Security benefits. This Court may set aside the Commissioner's decision only if it is based upon legal error or his factual findings are not supported by substantial evidence. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The Supreme Court has defined the term "substantial evidence," in the context of a Social Security case, as "more than a mere scintilla" and evidence which "'a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'" Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)).

In order to establish disability under the Act, the plaintiff has the burden of demonstrating (1) that she was unable to engage in substantial gainful activity by reason of a physical or mental impairment that could have been expected to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months, and (2) that the existence of such impairment was demonstrated by evidence supported by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory techniques. See 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3); see also Barnhart v. Walton, 535 U.S. 212, 215 (2002). Moreover, eligibility for SSI based upon disability is conditioned upon compliance with the income and resource requirements of 42 U.S.C. §§ 1382a and 1382b.

The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential evaluation for the adjudication of disability claims:

The first step of this process requires the Secretary to determine whether the claimant is presently employed. If the claimant is not employed, the Secretary then determines whether the claimant has a severe impairment that limits her capacity to work. If the claimant has such an impairment, the Secretary next considers whether the claimant has an impairment that is listed in Appendix 1 of the regulations. When the claimant has such an impairment, the Secretary will find the claimant disabled. However, if the claimant does not have a listed impairment, the Secretary must determine, under the fourth step, whether the claimant possesses the residual functional capacity to perform her past relevant work. Finally, if the claimant is unable to perform her past relevant work, the Secretary determines whether the claimant is capable of performing any other work.

See Perez v. Chater, 77 F.3d 41, 46 (2d Cir. 1996); 20 C.F.R. § 416.920. The burden is on the claimant at the first four steps of the evaluation. Bapp v. Bowen, 802 F.2d 601, 604 (2d Cir. 1986). If the claimant establishes that she is not capable of performing her past relevant work, then the burden shifts to the Commissioner who must then determine whether the claimant is capable of performing other work which exists in significant numbers in the national economy. Id.

The ALJ applied the five-step analysis in reaching his disability determination. At the first step, the ALJ found that the plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset of disability. (R. 22). At the second step, the ALJ found that the plaintiff had severe impairments, which included a right foot disorder and a low back disorder. The ALJ found that the plaintiff's depression was not a severe impairment. Id. Therefore, the ALJ proceeded to step three of the sequential evaluation, and considered whether the plaintiff had an impairment, or combination of impairments, severe enough to meet or equal the criteria of one of any listed impairments that the Commissioner presumes are so severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity. See 20 C.F.R. ยง 416.920(d),(e). These impairments are found in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, ...


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