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Gary T.Mantovani v. Michael J. Astrue

March 31, 2011

GARY T.MANTOVANI, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mauskopf, United States District Judge.

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

Plaintiff Gary T. Mantovani ("Plaintiff") brings this action against Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Defendant"), seeking review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), of Defendant's determination that he is not entitled to disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act ("SSA"). Plaintiff and Defendant each cross-move for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). ("Def.'s Mem." (Doc. No. 12); "Pl.'s Mem." (Doc. No. 14).) For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion is DENIED and Plaintiff's motion is GRANTED, but only to the extent that the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this decision.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff was born on September 3, 1954. (Administrative Transcript ("Tr.") (Doc. No. 15) at 35.) Plaintiff alleges that on or about July 1, 2000, his asthma, emphysema, poor memory, and borderline intelligence rendered him disabled and unable to work. (Compl. (Doc. No. 1) ¶ 4.) On April 18, 2002, Plaintiff filed an application for Social Security Disability Insurance ("SSDI") Benefits. (Id. ¶ 6; Tr. at 35--37.) Plaintiff's application was denied, and he requested a hearing before an administrative law judge. (Tr. at 19-A, 33--34.) Plaintiff, represented by legal counsel, testified at a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ( "ALJ") on April 28, 2009. (Id. at 137--56.) On May 7, 2009, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled under the Social Security Act. (Compl. ¶¶ 7--8; Tr. 9--19.) On May 28, 2009, Plaintiff filed a request with the Appeals Council for reconsideration. (Id. ¶ 9.) On August 11, 2009, the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review denied Plaintiff's request for review and upheld the ALJ's decision. (Id. ¶ 10; Tr. 3--6.)

Plaintiff filed this action on September 14, 2009, alleging that the decision of the ALJ is not supported by substantial evidence and is contrary to the law and provisions of the Social Security Act. (Compl. ¶¶ 12--13.)

STANDARD OF REVIEW

When a district court reviews the final determination of the Commissioner, it does not determine de novo whether the claimant is disabled. See Schaalv. Apfel, 134 F.3d 496, 501 (2d Cir. 1998). Rather, the court "may set aside the Commissioner's determination that a claimant is not disabled only if the factual findings are not supported by 'substantial evidence' or if the decision is based on legal error." Shaw v. Chater, 221 F.3d 126, 131 (2d Cir. 2000) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)). "[S]ubstantial evidence" is "more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quoting Consol. Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). Where the Commissioner makes a legal error, a "court cannot fulfill its statutory and constitutional duty to review the decision of the administrative agency by simply deferring to the factual findings of the ALJ." Townley v. Heckler, 748 F.2d 109, 112 (2d Cir. 1984) (citation omitted). The ALJ's failure to apply the correct legal standard is grounds for reversal. Townley, 748 F.2d at 112 (citation omitted).

DISCUSSION

The Social Security Administration's regulations require a five-step analysis for determining whether a claimant is disabled:

First, the Commissioner considers whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity. If he is not, the Commissioner next considers whether the claimant has a severe impairment which significantly limits his physical or mental ability to do basic work activities. If the claimant suffers such an impairment, the third inquiry is whether, based solely on medical evidence, the claimant has an impairment which is listed in Appendix 1 of the regulations. If the claimant has such an impairment, the Commissioner will consider him disabled without considering vocational factors such as age, education, and work experience; the Commissioner presumes that a claimant who is afflicted with a listed impairment is unable to perform substantial gainful activity. Assuming the claimant does not have a listed impairment, the fourth inquiry is whether, despite the claimant's severe impairment, he has the residual functional capacity to perform his past work. Finally, if the claimant is unable to perform his past work, the Commissioner then determines whether there is other work which the claimant could perform.

DeChirico v. Callahan, 134 F.3d 1177, 1179--80 (2d Cir. 1998).

1. The Decision of the ALJ

At the first step, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity from the time of his alleged onset date of July 1, 2000 through December 31, 2002, which is the relevant disability period. (Tr. at 14.) At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was severely impaired by asthma, emphysema, borderline intelligence, and poor memory. (Id.) At step three, the ALJ found that these impairments did not meet or qualify as the medical equivalent of any of the listed impairments. (Id.) The ALJ then assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity ("RFC"), which is based on all relevant medical and other evidence in the record. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e). The ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the RFC to perform simple, sedentary work. (Tr. at 15.) At the fourth step, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was unable to perform his past work as a supermarket stock clerk and lot worker because those jobs required "medium-to-heavy exertional capacity." (Id. at 18.) At the fifth step, the ALJ determined that there existed a significant number of jobs in the national economy that Plaintiff could have performed despite being limited to simple, sedentary work. (Id.) Accordingly, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled for purposes of the SSA and was thus ineligible for benefits. (Id. at 19.)

2. Treating Physician Rule "Treating source" is defined as a claimant's "physician, psychologist or other acceptable medical source" who provides, or has provided, the claimant "with medical treatment or evaluation and who has, or has had, an ongoing treatment relationship" with the claimant. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1502. The ALJ generally affords greater weight to the opinions of treating sources than consultative professionals or sources that have not examined the claimant. Id. § 404.1527(d)(2). If the treating source's opinion regarding the nature and severity of a claimant's impairments is "well-supported by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques and is not inconsistent with other ...


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