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Whitfield v. Astrue

July 23, 2010

MICHAEL WHITFIELD, 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 Michael Whitfield ("Plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §405(g), 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") James E. Dombeck, which denied his application for benefits, incorrectly evaluated medical evidence and that he was denied a fair and impartial trial at his administrative hearing.

Both the Commissioner and Plaintiff move for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(c) ("Rule 12(c)"). The Commissioner argues that substantial evidence in the record supports the ALJ's finding that Plaintiff's impairments do not render him disabled as defined by the Social Security Act ("the Act"). Plaintiff alleges that the ALJ's argumentative nature at his administrative hearing impeded his right to a fair and impartial trial and that the ALJ's decision contained several legal errors. Plaintiff requests a remand for further proceedings before a different ALJ to determine whether Plaintiff is disabled under the Act. 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 the applicable law. Therefore the Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings is hereby granted and the plaintiff's motion is denied.

BACKGROUND

On January 24, 2004, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB claiming a disability since January 3, 2003, due to back pain, depression, and uncontrolled hypertension. (Tr.*fn1 at 70). Plaintiff, who was 31 years old at the time of his application, had completed his GED (General Educational Development) and maintained steady employment from 1989 through January 2003. (Tr. at 85-90). Plaintiff alleges that he became disabled after sustaining a back injury while working as a coal handler for Rochester Gas & Electric (RG&E). (Tr. at 157). The Social Security Administration initially denied Plaintiff's application on March 30, 2005 and Plaintiff filed a timely request for an administrative hearing on May 18, 2005. (Tr. at 32, 40). An administrative hearing was held on August 16, 2007 before ALJ James E. Dombeck, and Plaintiff was represented by counsel. (Tr. at 537-65).

In a decision dated October 16, 2007, the ALJ found Plaintiff not disabled within the meaning of the Act. The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Social Security Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision on August 11, 2008. (Tr. at 6-9). This action followed.

DISCUSSION

I. Jurisdiction and Scope of Review

Title 42, Section 405(g) of the United States Code grants jurisdiction to Federal District Courts to hear claims based on the denial of Social Security benefits. See Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 320 (1976). In addition, Section 405(g) directs that the District Court must accept the Commissioner's findings of fact if those findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record. See Bubnis v. Apfel, 150 F.3d 177, 181 (2d Cir. 1998); see also Williams v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 236 Fed.Appx. 641, 642-3 (2d Cir. Apr. 24, 2007).

Substantial evidence is defined as "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." See Metropolitan Stevedore Co. v. Rambo, 521 U.S. 121, 149 (1997) (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). Section 405(g) thus limits this court's scope of review to two inquiries: (i) whether the Commissioner's conclusions are supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole, and (ii) whether the Commissioner's conclusions are based upon an erroneous legal standard. See Green-Younger v. Barnhart, 335 F.3d 99, 105-06 (2d Cir. 2003); see also Wagner v. Secretary of Health & Human Serv., 906 F.2d 856, 860 (2d Cir. 1990) (holding that review of the Secretary's decision is not de novo and that the Secretary's findings are conclusive if supported by substantial evidence).

Both the Commissioner and Plaintiff move for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 405(g) and Rule 12(c). Section 405(g) provides that the District Court "shall have power to enter, upon the pleadings and transcript of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing." 42 U.S.C.S. § 405(g) (2007). 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. See Sellers v. M.C. Floor Crafters, Inc., 842 F.2d 639, 642 (2d Cir. 1988).

Since this Court finds that the ALJ's decision which Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act was supported by substantial evidence in the record, judgment on the pleadings is hereby granted in favor of the Commissioner.

II. The Commissioner's Decision to Deny the Plaintiff Benefits was Supported by Substantial Evidence in the Record

In his decision, the ALJ adhered to the Social Security Administration's five-step evaluation analysis in finding that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social ...


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