The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael A. Telesca United States District Judge
Plaintiff Kirk VanOrden ("Plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to § 205(g) of the Social Security Act ("the Act") seeking review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"), denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges the decision of the Commissioner was not based on substantial evidence, was based on errors of law, and is in violation of Title II and Title XVI of the Social Security Act as well as the Commissioner's Regulations promulgated thereunder.
The Commissioner moves for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) ("Rule 12(c)")on the grounds that the Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ") decision was supported by substantial evidence. Plaintiff opposes the Commissioner's motion and cross-moves for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(a), on grounds that the Commissioner's decision was erroneous and not supported by substantial evidence in the record. The Court finds that the decision of the Commissioner for the reasons set forth below, is supported by substantial evidence, and is in accordance with applicable law and therefore the Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings is hereby granted.
On November 24, 2004, the Plaintiff filed a Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits and also filed a Title XVI application for supplemental security income claiming disability since November 22, 2004. Plaintiff's application was denied by the Social Security Administration initially on August 10, 2005. Plaintiff then filed a timely request for a hearing on October 14, 2004. Plaintiff thereafter appeared, with counsel, at an administrative hearing before ALJ Robert Wright on April 10, 2008. In a decision dated May 30, 2008, the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. Plaintiff then requested the Appeals Council review the ALJ decision, and on November 26, 2008, the Appeals Council gave plaintiff opportunity to provide additional evidence or argument in support of his claim which plaintiff failed to do. On January 9, 2009, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review and the ALJ's decision became final. Following the denial of review by the Appeals Council, plaintiff timely filed the instant action.
I. Jurisdiction and Scope of Review
42 U.S.C. § 405(g) grants jurisdiction to district courts to hear claims based on the denial of Social Security benefits. Additionally, the section directs that when considering such a claim, the Court must accept the findings of fact made by the Commissioner, provided that such findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record. Substantial evidence is defined as, "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 217 (1938). Section 405(g) thus limits the Court's scope of review to determining whether or not the Commissioner's findings were supported by substantial evidence. See Mongeur v. Heckler 722 F.2d 1033, 1038 (2d Cir. 1983) (finding that a reviewing Court does not try a benefits case de novo). The Court is also authorized to review the legal standards employed by the Commissioner in evaluating plaintiff's claim.
The Court must "scrutinize the record in its entirety to determine the reasonableness of the decision reached." Lynn v. Schweiker, 565 F. Supp. 265, 267 (S.D. Tex. 1983) (citation omitted). The Commissioner asserts that his decision was reasonable and is supported by substantial evidence in the record, and moves for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c). Judgment on the pleadings may be granted under Rule 12(c) 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 (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 which would entitle him to relief, judgment on the pleadings may be appropriate. See Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957).
II. The Commissioner's Decision to Deny the Plaintiff Benefits was Supported by Substantial Evidence in the Record
The ALJ in his decision found that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. The ALJ adhered to the Social Security Administration's five-step sequential analysis in determining disability benefits. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. Step One: ALJ considers whether claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity. Step Two: If the claimant is not, ALJ considers whether claimant has severe impairment which significantly limits his physical or mental ability to do basic work activities. Step Three: If claimant suffers from an impairment that is listed in Appendix 1 of Subpart P of the Social Security Regulations, claimant will be considered disabled without considering other factors. Step Four: If claimant does not have an impairment listed in Appendix 1, the ALJ will determine whether or not the claimant, despite his impairments, retains the residual functional capacity to perform his past work. Step Five: If claimant is unable to perform his past work, ALJ will determine whether claimant can perform other work in the local or national economy.
Under Step One, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset of disability. (Transcript of Administrative Proceedings at page 12) (hereinafter "T."). At Steps Two and Three, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff's impairment, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine with subsequent surgery is not "severe" within the meaning of the Regulations and is not severe enough to meet or equal, either singly or in combination, any of the impairments listed in Appendix 1, Subpart P of Social Security Regulations. (T. at 12, 13).
For Steps Four and Five, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff retained the residual functioning capacity to perform the physical requirements of light work (T. at 16, 17). Light work is defined as the ability to sit, stand and walk for six hours in an eight-hour workday and lift 10 pounds frequently and 20 pounds occasionally.(T. at 16,17). As such, at Step Four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was unable to perform his past relevant work as a factory worker and construction laborer, because it required that Plaintiff lift at least 50 pounds frequently and 100 pounds occasionally. (T. at 17). At Step Five, while considering Plaintiff's age, education, and work experience with Plaintiff's ...