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Disarno v. Astrue

June 28, 2010

GRACE DISARNO, 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 Grace Disarno ("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 her application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"). Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that the decision of Administrative Law Judge Marilyn D. Zahm ("ALJ") was 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. 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 August 5, 2003, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB claiming that she became disabled on December 21, 2001, as a result of a motor vehicle accident. (Tr. 74--77). Plaintiff claims that she suffers from severe neck and back pain, degenerative disc disease, and depression. (Plaintiff's Complaint). Plaintiff's application was denied by the Social Security Administration. (Tr. 22-26).

Thereafter, Plaintiff and her representative appeared at an administrative hearing before the ALJ on September 12, 2005. (Tr. 505-36). The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on August 28, 2006.(Tr. 18-31). The Social Security Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on May 12, 2006. (Tr. 8-11). Plaintiff appealed to the United States District Court for the Western District of New York, and on May 2, 2008, the Honorable John T. Curtin remanded the case for further proceedings to consider evidence from treating orthopedic surgeon, Dr. William Capicotto. (Tr. 558-70).

A second hearing before the ALJ was held on September 23, 2008, at which Plaintiff and her representative appeared. (Tr. 689-95). By decision dated October 14, 2008, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. (Tr. 543-57). The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council declined to assume jurisdiction on November 17, 2008 (Tr. 537-40). On January 20, 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 her decision found that the Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act from the alleged onset date of December 21,2001, through her date last insured of December 31, 2001. (Tr. 549). 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 had not engaged in substantial gainful activity at any time during the relevant period. (Tr. 549). Plaintiff had two jobs in 2003, but they ended within six months due to Plaintiff's illness. Id. The ALJ found that these periods of work activity represented unsuccessful work attempts. Id. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1574. At step two, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff's neck and back disorder were severe within the meaning of the Social Security Regulations and had more than a minimal impact on her ability to work. (Tr. 549-50). At step three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's neck and back disorder were not severe enough to meet or equal singly or in combination, any of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Id.

Further, at the fourth step, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work. See 20 C.F.R. §416.967(b). The ALJ found that Plaintiff could perform her past relevant work as a counter clerk. (Tr. 556-57).

Based on the entire record, including medical evidence, the ALJ properly found that Plaintiff could perform her past relevant work. 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 Social Security Act.

A. Medical Evidence in the Record Supports the ALJ's Determination that Plaintiff was not Disabled

On December 22, 2001, Plaintiff was examined in the emergency department of the Mercy Ambulatory Care Center, following a motor vehicle accident the day before. (Tr. 418-23). Plaintiff was diagnosed with musculoskeletal back, neck, and left shoulder pain, and discharged with prescriptions for pain medication. Id.

On December 26, 2001, Plaintiff saw family practitioner Dr. Eric Goodwin. (Tr. 424). Dr. Goodwin noted no motor or sensory loss, and a moderately reduced range of motion. Id. Plaintiff did not report any head injury or loss of consciousness from the accident. Id. He diagnosed back sprain and ...


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