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Jackson v. Astrue

August 30, 2010

JONATHAN A. JACKSON, 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 Jonathan A. Jackson ("Plaintiff and/or "Jackson") brings this action pursuant to the Social Security Act (codified in relevant parts at 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3)), claiming that the Commissioner of Social Security improperly denied his application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). Specifically, Jackson alleges that the decision of the Administrative Law Judge, Lamar W. Davis (hereinafter the "ALJ"), was erroneous and not supported by substantial evidence in the record. Plaintiff requests that the Court reverse the ALJ's decision and remand the matter to the Commissioner for calculation and payment of benefits, or in the alternative, remand the matter for further administrative proceedings.

The Defendant Commissioner of Social Security (hereinafter the "Commissioner") moves for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure on grounds that the ALJ's decision was supported by substantial evidence and was made in accordance with applicable law. Plaintiff opposes the Commissioner's motion. For the reasons discussed below, the Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings is granted and the ALJ's decision is affirmed.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, a 41-year-old former sanitation worker, filed applications for DIB and SSI on December 7, 2005, claiming his disability began on April 19, 2005*fn1 (Tr.*fn2 99-105). Jackson's application was denied on April 14, 2006. (Tr. 86-91). Thereafter, Plaintiff timely filed a written request for hearing on June 1, 2006. (Tr. 84). On May 23, 2008, Plaintiff and his attorney at the time, Deborah Olszowka, appeared at a hearing held in Buffalo, New York before ALJ, Lamar W. Davis. (Tr. 498-516). Tim Janikowski, a vocational expert ("VE"), was also present and testified at the hearing. (Tr. 498).

In a decision dated July 22, 2008 (the "Decision"), the ALJ found that Jackson was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act (hereinafter "SSA"). (Tr. 11-22). The Appeals Council denied review on January 27, 2009, rendering the ALJ's Decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 4-6). Plaintiff timely filed this action on May 20, 2009.

In finding that Jackson was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act, the ALJ adhered to the Social Security Administration's five-step sequential analysis for evaluating applications and determining whether an individual is disabled. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a) and 416.920(a)(4)(i)-(v)(2009)*fn3 .

In this case, under step one of the analysis, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 18, 2005, the alleged onset date. (Tr. 16). At steps two and three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's impairments, namely his hypertension, low back pain, Gastro Esophageal Reflux Disease ["GERD"] and Affective/Anxiety-Related Disorder, were severe within the meaning of the Regulations but were not severe enough to "meet or medically equal," (either singly or in combination) the criteria that conclusively requires a determination of disability under 20 C.F.R. §404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 16). At step four, the ALJ concluded that Jackson was unable to perform his past relevant work - i.e., light to medium extertional work. Nevertheless, at step five, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had "the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform a full range of sedentary work, [] despite [] minimal non-exertional limitations." (Tr. 16, 21). Indeed, the ALJ relied on the testimony of the VE and on the Medical-Vocational Rules found in 20 C.F.R. §404, Subpart P, Appendix 2 ("the Rules") to conclude that "[Jackson] would be capable of performing [any of the sedentary jobs] outlined by the vocational expert." (Tr. 21). Accordingly, the ALJ determined that "based on a [RFC] for the full range of sedentary work - while considering the claimant's age, education - a finding of 'not disabled' is reached by direct application of Medical-Vocational Rule 201.27/.28/.29." (Tr. 22).

For the reasons that follow, I find that the ALJ's determinations were supported by substantial medical evidence in the record, and therefore, his Decision must be affirmed.

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. Id. 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 were 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." See Morici v. Astrue, 2008 WL 686763, *1 (W.D.N.Y. 2008) (Telesca, J.) (citing Lynn v. Schweiker, 565 F.Supp 265, 267 (S.D. Tex 1983)). The Commissioner asserts that his decision is supported by the substantial medical evidence in the record, and moves for judgment ...


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