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Mix v. Astrue

June 18, 2010

ROBERT D. MIX, JR., 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 Robert D. Mix Jr. ("Plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act ("the Act"), claiming that the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") improperly denied his application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB"). Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that the decision of Administrative Law Judge Robert Harvey ("ALJ") was erroneous and not supported by substantial evidence in the record.

The Commissioner moves for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c) ("Rule 12(c)"), on the grounds that the ALJ's decision was supported by substantial evidence. Plaintiff opposes the Commissioner's motion, and cross-moves for judgment on the pleadings. For the reasons set forth herein, I find that the decision of the Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence, and is in accordance with applicable law, and therefore, I grant the Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings.

Background

On March 26, 2002, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB claiming he became disabled on July 13, 2001 due to diabetes mellitus, hepatitis C, sleep apnea, alcohol and marijuana dependence, a personality disorder, and major depressive disorder with recurrent hallucinations. (Tr. 69-71, 348). Plaintiff's application was initially denied by the Social Security Administration. (Tr. 26-29, 30). ALJ Nancy Battaglia considered the case de novo and issued an unfavorable decision on February 24, 2004. (Tr. 347-53). The Appeals Council granted Plaintiff's request for review on June 16, 2004, vacating ALJ Battaglia's decision and remanding the claim for further proceedings. (Tr. 395-60).

On December 8, 2004, ALJ Robert Harvey held a de novo hearing and on March 17, 2005, issued a new ruling finding plaintiff not disabled. (Tr. 14-24, 940-86). After the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, Plaintiff sought review in the District Court for Western New York and the Honorable John T. Curtin remanded the case to the Commissioner. (Tr. 7-10, 575-84). Thereafter, Plaintiff appeared at another hearing on October 1, 2008, and ALJ Harvey issued an unfavorable decision dated November 4, 2008. (Tr. 1013-37, 562-72). The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Social Security Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (Tr. 558-60). On January 7, 2009, Plaintiff timely filed this action. (Plaintiff's Complaint).

Discussion

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 the 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).

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 the Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act from the alleged onset date of July 13, 2001, through his date last insured of December 31, 2006. (Tr. 567). In doing so, the ALJ followed the Social Security Administration's five-step sequential analysis. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520.*fn1

Under step one of the process, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity during the relevant period. (Tr. 567). At steps two and three, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff's depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, personality disorder and alcohol abuse were severe within the meaning of the Social Security Regulations, but not severe enough to meet or equal singly or in combination, any of the impairments listed in Appendix 1, Subpart P of Regulations No. 4. (Tr. 568).

Further, at steps four and five, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work. (Tr. 569). See 20 C.F.R. §416.967(b). The ALJ found the while the Plaintiff was incapable of performing his past relevant work as a chemical operator, he was not precluded from performing other light work. (Tr. 571). However, Plaintiff had additional limitations, which eroded his ability to perform the full range of activities at the light work level. Id. Therefore, in the fifth step, the ALJ considered Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, RFC, and a vocational expert's testimony regarding Plaintiff's additional limitations. He determined that Plaintiff was able to perform a significant number of jobs in the economy, such as cleaner and mailroom clerk. Id.

Based on the entire record, including medical evidence, the ALJ properly found that Plaintiff could perform light work with some limitations. Id. Therefore, I find that there is substantial evidence in the record to support the ALJ's finding that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act.

A. Medical and Non-Medical Evidence in the Record Supports the ALJ's Determination That Plaintiff was not Disabled

Plaintiff was diagnosed with hepatitis C in 1998. (Tr. 343). Throughout the relevant period, Plaintiff's physical examinations were negative for any clinical signs of hepatitis. (Tr. 196-97, 187-94, 182-84, 285-90; 415-421). Plaintiff's treating physician indicated that he responded well to treatment, and his symptoms had resolved by February 11, 2004. (Tr. 413).

Plaintiff alleged that his sleep apnea caused sleep disturbances. (Tr. 142-48). He was prescribed a continuous positive airway pressure machine for mild obstructive sleep apnea. (Tr. 142, 147). At his first ALJ hearing, Plaintiff testified that he was not affected by his condition as badly as his medical records indicated. (Tr. 343).

Plaintiff alleged hip pain and weakness. His rheumatologist suspected a relatively mild case of rheumatoid arthritis that caused moderate symptoms. (Tr. 447). ...


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