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Daniel Whipple v. Michael J. Astrue

March 31, 2011

DANIEL WHIPPLE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Glenn T. Suddaby, United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM-DECISION and ORDER

Currently before the Court, in this action filed by Daniel Whipple ("Plaintiff") against Social Security Commissioner Michael J. Astrue ("Defendant") pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking Social Security benefits, are the following: (1) Plaintiff's motion for remand (Dkt. No. 11); (2) Defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings (Dkt. No. 14); (3) the Report-Recommendation of United States Magistrate Judge David E. Peebles, issued pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Rule 72.3(c) of the Local Rules of Practice for this Court, recommending that (a) Plaintiff's motion for remand be denied, (b) Defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings be granted, (c) Defendant's decision denying Social Security benefits to Plaintiff be affirmed, and (d) Plaintiff's Complaint be dismissed (Dkt. No. 16); and (4) Plaintiff's Objections to the Report-Recommendation (Dkt. No. 17). For the reasons set forth below, Magistrate Judge Peebles' Report-Recommendation is accepted and adopted in its entirety; Plaintiff's motion for remand is denied; Defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings is granted; Defendant's decision denying Social Security benefits to Plaintiff is affirmed; and Plaintiff's Complaint is dismissed.

I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND

A. Procedural History

Because neither party has objected to Part II of Magistrate Judge Peebles' Report-Recommendation, setting forth the procedural history of this action, the Court adopts that description of this action's procedural history. (See generally Dkt. No. 16, at 10-12 [Report-Rec].)

On June 13, 2006, Plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under the Social Security Act, alleging a disability onset date of March 31, 2006. (See Administrative Transcript ["T."] at 57-59.)*fn1 On August 25, 2006, Plaintiff's application was denied by the Social Security Administration. (T. at 34-37.) Plaintiff appealed the denial; and, on January 17, 2008, a hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") of the Social Security Administration. (T. at 303-18.)

On May 30, 2008, the ALJ issued his decision finding Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act and therefore denying his application for benefits. (T. at 21-30.)

In his decision, the ALJ applied the five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether an individual is disabled.*fn2 More specifically, in reaching this conclusion, the ALJ made the following findings: (1) Plaintiff had in fact engaged in substantial gainful activity ("SGA") since the alleged onset date of March 31, 2006, with posted earnings totaling $13,496.15, and therefore Plaintiff failed to establish one of the threshold requirements for establishing disability;*fn3 (2) Plaintiff's anxiety and major depressive and/or schizoaffective disorder in remission sufficiently interfered with his ability to perform work-related activities (i.e., qualified as severe at step two); (3) Plaintiff's impairment or combination of impairments did not meet or medically equal any of the listed, presumptively disabling impairments set forth in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P. App. 1; (4) Plaintiff retains the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform work at all exertional levels in a job involving simple tasks and allowing for a low stress environment; (5) Plaintiff is unable to perform any of his past relevant work; (6) there are jobs existing in sufficient numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff is capable of performing, despite his limitations. (Id.)

Plaintiff appealed from the ALJ's decision to the Social Security Administration's Appeals Council. (T. 5-7.) On November 21, 2008, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of Defendant. (Id.) On December 19, 2008, Plaintiff commenced this action in this Court. (Dkt. No. 1.)

Generally, in his brief in support of his motion for remand, Plaintiff asserts the following four arguments: (1) in ruling against him at step one of the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ failed to apply the appropriate legal standards, which "could reasonably have prejudiced the remainder of the evaluation"; (2) the ALJ failed to apply the appropriate legal standards when evaluating the limitations imposed by Plaintiff's mental impairments; (3) because his limitations are solely non-exertional, the ALJ erred by resorting to the grid in order to ascertain the availability of suitable work for Plaintiff, and not requesting input from a vocational expert; and (4) the ALJ failed to apply the appropriate legal standards in evaluating Plaintiff's credibility. Generally, in his brief in opposition to Plaintiff's motion, and in support of his own motion, Defendant disagrees with each of these four arguments, and argues that the decision finding Plaintiff not disabled should be affirmed. (Dkt. No. 11.)

B. Magistrate Judge Peebles' Report-Recommendation

On March 8, 2011, Magistrate Judge Peebles issued a Report-Recommendation recommending that Defendant's decision denying Social Security benefits be affirmed and the Complaint be dismissed. (Dkt. No. 16.) Generally, in support of his recommendation, Magistrate Judge Peebles found as follows: (1) the ALJ's correctly determined that, as of July 2007, Plaintiff was no longer disabled; (2) the ALJ properly incorporated the prescribed psychiatric review technique into his findings, which were supported by substantial evidence, and correctly concluded that Plaintiff's mental condition did not meet or equal any of the relevant, listed mental impairments; (3) the ALJ's RFC determination was supported by substantial evidence; (4) the ALJ did not err in resorting to the grid for use as a framework in determining the issue of disability; and (5) the ALJ's assessment of Plaintiff's credibility was supported by substantial evidence. (Id.)

C. Plaintiff's Objections to the Report-Recommendation

On March 22, 2011, Plaintiff timely filed his Objections to the Report-Recommendation. (Dkt. No. 17.) Generally, in his Objections, Plaintiff argues that the Court should reject the Report-Recommendation for the following reasons: (1) Magistrate Judge Peebles erred in affirming the ALJ's finding at step 1; (2) Magistrate Judge Peebles erred when he determined a vocational expert was ...


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