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Byer v. Astrue

June 18, 2010

RICHARD N. BYER, 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 Richard N. Byer ("Plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to Title II 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 ("DIB"). Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that the decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") John P. Costello denying his application for benefits was against the weight of substantial evidence contained in the record and contrary to applicable legal standards.

The Commissioner moves for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12 (c) ("Rule 12(c)"), on 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, on grounds that the Commissioner's decision was erroneous. This 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.

BACKGROUND

On September 1, 2006, Plaintiff, at the time a 47 year-old grinding machine tender and tow truck driver, filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II of the Act claiming a disability onset date of November 2, 1995, but amended his complaint to list his disability onset date as September 3, 1999. (R. 27)*fn1. Plaintiff's application to the Commissioner was denied and he then moved for a hearing which was held before ALJ Costello, on April 16, 2007. (R. 66-70, 23-65). In a decision dated May 31, 2007, the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff was not disabled. The ALJ's decision became final when the Social Security Appeals Council affirmed the decision of the ALJ on March 9, 2009. On March 19, 2009, Plaintiff filed this action pursuant to § 405(g) of the Act for review of the final decision of the Commissioner.

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 Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income. Additionally, the section directs that when considering such claims, 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, 229 (1938). Section 405(g) thus limits the court's scope of review to determining whether or not the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence. See, Mongeur v. Heckler, 722 F.2d 1033, 1038 (2d Cir. 1983) (finding that the 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 the 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). Defendant 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) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Under Rule 12(c), judgment on the pleadings 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 (2d Cir. 1988).

II. The Commissioner's Decision To Deny The Plaintiff Benefits Was Supported By Substantial Evidence Within The Record And Is Proper As A Matter Of Law

The ALJ in his decision, found that Plaintiff was not disabled within his insured coverage period, ending on December 31, 2000 pursuant to the relevant portions of the Social Security Act. A disability is defined within 42 U.S.C. § 423(d) to be the:

"inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment or combination of impairments that can be expected to result in death or that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d) (1991).

In determining the threshold question of Plaintiff's disability, the ALJ adhered to the Administration's 5-step sequential analysis for evaluating assignments of disability benefits.*fn2 See 20 C.F.R. ยง 404.1520. Having gone through the evaluation process, the ALJ found (1) Plaintiff was not currently engaged in substantial gainful activity, and has not since his (amended) alleged onset date of September 3, 1999; (2) Plaintiff had suffered from a "severe impairment" to his back; (3) During the time of coverage, Plaintiff's impairment did not meet or equal those listed within 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. 404.1520(d), 416.920(d)); (4) During the period of disability coverage, Plaintiff was unable to perform his ...


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