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Lovell v. Astrue

August 19, 2010

DUSTIN LOVELL, 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 Dustin Lovell ("Plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to Title XVI of the Social Security Act ("the Act"), seeking review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"), claiming that the Commissioner incorrectly denied Plaintiff's application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that the decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Brian Kane, which denied Plaintiff's SSI benefits, was erroneous and contrary to law as it was not supported by substantial evidence within the record.

Now before the Court is the Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings and Plaintiff's cross-motion for a judgment on the pleadings, both pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and 42 U.S.C. §405(g). For the reasons set forth below, the Plaintiff's cross-motion for a judgment on the pleadings is denied, and the ALJ's decision is affirmed.

BACKGROUND

On August 8, 2006, petitioner was a then 18 year-old unemployed male who filed an application for Supplemental Security Income under Title XVI of the Act. Plaintiff claims an alleged disability onset date of December 27, 1998.*fn1 Plaintiff's applications for benefits were denied on December 18, 2006, and he then requested a hearing before an ALJ, which was held on December 18, 2008. (R. 10, 29-58)*fn2 . In a decision dated February 4, 2009, the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff was not disabled. The ALJ's decision became final when the Social Security Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's appeal on May 18, 2009. On June 12, 2009, Plaintiff timely 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 ALJ's Decision to Deny the Plaintiff Benefits was Supported by Substantial Evidence within the Record and Proper as a Matter of Law

The ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. A disability is defined within 42 U.S.C. § 423(d) as 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.*fn3 See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. Having gone through the evaluation process, the ALJ found, among other things, that:

(1) Plaintiff was not currently engaged in substantial gainful activity, and had not since August 8, 2006, the application date;

(2) Plaintiff suffered from the following "severe impairments": anxiety, obsessive compulsive tendencies and depression;

(3) Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal those listed within 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. 416.925 and 416.926 et seq.); (4) Plaintiff does not have any past relevant work that amounts to substantial gainful activity; and (5) Considering Plaintiff's residual functional capacity, as well as other qualifications such as age, education, and work experience, there exist jobs within the national economy that Plaintiff can perform. (R. 12-18).

A. The Substantial Medical Evidence within the Record Supports the ALJ's Decision that Plaintiff was not Disabled

The medical evidence within the record shows that Plaintiff had sought emergency room services at the Auburn Memorial Hospital ("AMH") on April 11, 2005. (R. 243-46). During his hospitalization, Plaintiff stated that he had run out of his medication (Paxil) and his anxiety has been "driving [him] nuts."

(R. 244). Plaintiff received a diagnosis of an anxiety attack and was prescribed Ativan for his anxiety. (R. 245-46). On May 2, 2005, Plaintiff ...


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