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Sessions v. Astrue

March 8, 2010

JIMMY L. SESSIONS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY DEFENDANT.



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

DECISION and ORDER

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Jimmy L. Sessions ("Plaintiff") commenced the instant action on September 26, 2008, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), seeking review of the final determination of the defendant Michael J. Astrue, the Commissioner of Social Security (the "Commissioner"), disallowing plaintiff's claim for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits under the Social Security Act. The Commissioner moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c)) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure on May 19, 2009. On June 26, 2009, plaintiff moved for an extension of time to file additional medical reports. The Commissioner filed a response memorandum opposing plaintiff's motion on July 28, 2009.

For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds that plaintiff is not entitled to benefits because substantial evidence in the record demonstrates that he is not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Therefore, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed. The Court also denies plaintiff's motion for an extension of time to file additional medical reports because he has not shown that even if his motion was granted the additional evidence would require remand in this case.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff protectively filed an application for SSI benefits on June 29, 2005. (Tr. 81).*fn1 In his application, plaintiff stated that he was unable to work as of February 1, 2002, due to arthritis of the neck, anxiety, panic, depression, and mental illness. (Tr. 89). Plaintiff was forty-six years old at the time of his application. (See Tr. 81). Plaintiff indicated that the eighth grade was the highest grade he completed in school, and when questioned during the hearing, plaintiff indicated that he had primarily been placed in special education classes. (Tr. 93; 327). Plaintiff's past relevant work included positions as a garbage collector from 1991 to 1992, a dishwasher in a restaurant from 1989 to 1999, and a janitor in 2002. (Tr. 95-98; see also Tr. 327-29).

Plaintiff's application for benefits was denied on October 13, 2005. (Tr. 31-33). On December 17, 2005, plaintiff filed a Disability Report-Appeal, in which he stated that because of injuries he sustained in an automobile accident on March 14, 2005, he was no longer able to "lift heavy weights or maintain a steady work pace." (Tr. 112). Pursuant to plaintiff's request, hearings before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") were scheduled for May 16, 2006 and July 5, 2006. (Tr. 310-13; 314-20). Both hearings were adjourned in order to allow plaintiff time to obtain legal representation.

Id. Once plaintiff obtained counsel, he again appeared before the ALJ on September 5, 2006 for a hearing. (Tr. 321-56). During the hearing, testimony was provided by plaintiff and a vocational expert. (Tr. 322). In a decision dated February 2, 2007, the ALJ found that although plaintiff suffered from left knee disorder, degenerative cervical disc disease, herniated cervical and lumbar discs, cervical spine sprain, lumbar spine sprain, and alcohol and drug abuse, he was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act, and therefore was not entitled to receive SSI benefits. (Tr. 12-25). On March 30, 2007, plaintiff requested that the Appeals Council review the ALJ's decision. (Tr. 8-11). The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review on July 25, 2008, and therefore, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 5-7). Plaintiff then filed this pro se action seeking review of the ALJ's determination.

DISCUSSION

I. Jurisdiction and Scope of Review

Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), district courts have jurisdiction to hear claims based on the denial of Social Security benefits. On review, the district court may set aside the decision of the Commissioner "only if the factual findings are not supported by 'substantial evidence' or if the decision is based on legal error." Shaw v. Chater, 221 F.3d 126, 131 (2d Cir. 2000); see also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence is "more than a mere scintilla," and is defined as "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quoting Consol. Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)).

II. The Disability Standard

In order to qualify for Supplemental Security Income benefits, a claimant must be "unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which . . . has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months." 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). The claimant's impairments must be "of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy." Id. § 1382c(a)(3)(B). The claimant must also satisfy the income and resource criteria as set forth in 42 U.S.C. §§ 1382, 1382a, and 1382b.

The following five-step sequential evaluation process is used to determine whether a claimant is disabled under the Social Security Act:

1. The Commissioner considers whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity.

2. If not, the Commissioner considers whether the claimant has a "severe impairment" which limits his or her mental or physical ...


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