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Paul D. Van Orden v. Michael Astrue

January 13, 2011

PAUL D. VAN ORDEN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL 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, Paul D. Van Orden ("Plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking review of a final decision by the Commissioner of Social Security denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"). Plaintiff applied for DIB under Title II of the Social Security Act ("the Act") for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits alleging disability beginning September 9, 2005. Plaintiff moves for judgment on the pleadings alleging that the decision of the Administrative Law Judge, Wallace Tannenbaum ("ALJ"), that the Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of Act, was not supported by substantial evidence in the record. The Plaintiff asserts that, for the aforementioned reasons, the ALJ's decisions should be reversed.

The Commissioner moves for judgment on the pleadings claiming that the decision of the ALJ is supported by substantial evidence and should be affirmed. After reviewing the entire record, this Court finds that the decision of the Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence in the record. Therefore, for the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings is granted, and the Plaintiff's motion is denied.

Background

On October 2, 2006, Plaintiff applied for DIB alleging disability due to degenerative arthritis of the knees(bilaterally), bilateral meniscal tears, hereditary peripheral neuropathy palsy with predisposition to pressure palsies, bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, sleep apnea and hypothyroidism. Plaintiff was born June 27, 1969. Plaintiff completed one year of college, and previously worked as a business and finance manager, general manager of a fast-food restaurant, grounds keeper, sales consultant, and a soldier in the U.S. Army.

Plaintiff's application was initially denied on April 4, 2007, and Plaintiff timely filed a request for a hearing before an ALJ. The hearing took place on May 7, 2009 by video. Plaintiff appeared in Rochester, New York with his attorney, and the ALJ presided over the hearing from New York City. In a decision dated June 15, 2009, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. This decision became final when the Appeals Council affirmed the decision of the ALJ on January 6, 2010. Plaintiff then filed this action seeking review of the Commissioner's decision. The issue is whether the claimant is disabled under § 216 (i) and § 223(d) of the Act.

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. Matthews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 320 (1976). 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, 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).

While the court must act as "more than an uncritical rubber stamp," it must not "decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute its own judgment for that of the [Commissioner]." Delgado v. Bowen, 782 F.2d 79, 82 (7th Cir. 1986); Sitarek v. Shalala, 92-CV-641S, 1994 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5851 (W.D.N.Y. April 21, 1994). The Commissioner's findings are not subject to reversal merely because two inconsistent conclusions could be drawn from the evidence, so long as his particular finding is supported by substantial evidence. See, e.g., NLRB v. Columbian Enameling & Stamping Co., 306 U.S. 292, 299-300 (1939); Walker v. Bowen, 834 F.2d 635, 640 (7th Cir. 1987)("where conflicting evidence allows reasonable minds to differ as to whether a claimant is disabled, the responsibility for that decision falls on the Secretary").

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 contends 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. 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). If, after a review of the pleadings, the court is convinced that the Plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief, judgment on the pleadings may be appropriate. See, Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957).

II. There is Substantial Evidence in the Record to Support the Commissioner's Decision that the Plaintiff was not Disabled Within the Meaning of the Act.

The Act defines a disability as the "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months..." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). An individual will only be considered "under a disability" if his impairment is so severe that he is both unable to do his previous work and unable to engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work that exists in the national economy. §§ 423(d)(2)(A).

In his decision, the ALJ followed the required five-step analysis for evaluating disability claims. (Transcript 18-19) (hereinafter "Tr."). The five-step analysis ...


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