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Lenorris Sanders v. Michael Astrue

May 3, 2011

LENORRIS SANDERS 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, Lenorris Sanders("Plaintiff"), brings this action pursuant to Title XVI of the Social Security Act, seeking review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"), denying his application for Supplemental Security Income("SSI"). Specifically, the Plaintiff alleges that the decision of the Administrative Law Judge, John P. Costello ("ALJ"), denying Plaintiff's application for benefits, was not supported by substantial evidence in the record and was contrary to the applicable legal standards.

The Commissioner moves for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12 (c) ("Rule 12 (c)"), on the grounds that the decision of the ALJ was supported by substantial evidence in the record and was in accordance with the applicable legal standards. The Plaintiff opposes the Commissioner's motion, and cross-moves for judgment on the pleadings on the grounds that the ALJ's decision was not supported by substantial evidence and was contrary to the applicable legal standards. This Court finds that the ALJ's decision was supported by substantial evidence in the record and was in accordance with the applicable legal standards. 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. Plaintiff's complaint is dismissed with prejudice.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff filed an application for Supplemental Security Income on October 30, 2007 under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, claiming disability due to "chronic lower back pain, left leg, [and a] bulging disc." Transcript of the Administrative Proceedings at 42, 99-102 (hereinafter "Tr."). Plaintiff's application was initially denied on February 20, 2008. Id. at 43-46. Plaintiff filed a timely written request for a de novo hearing, which was held on September 20, 2009 before ALJ John P. Costello. Id. at 19-41, 47. Plaintiff appeared at the hearing, without counsel, and testified. Id. at 21-22.

In a decision dated November 3, 2009, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Id. at 117-18. Plaintiff sought review by the Appeals Council on January 6, 2010. Id. at 4-5. The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner on April 16, 2010, when the Appeals Council denied review. Id. at 1-3. Plaintiff then filed this action.

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. When considering these cases, this section directs the Court to accept the findings of fact made by the Commissioner, provided that such findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record. Substantial evidence is "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). The Court's scope of review is limited to whether or not the Commissioner's findings were supported by substantial evidence in the record, and whether the Commissioner employed the proper legal standards in evaluating the plaintiff's claim. See Monger v. Heckler, 722 F.2d 1033, 1038 (2d Cir. 1983) (finding a reviewing Court does not try a benefits case de novo). 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 asserts that the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence in the record and is in accordance with the applicable legal standards, and moves for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12 (c). 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). If, after reviewing the record, the Court is convinced that Plaintiff has not set forth a plausible claim for relief, judgment on the pleadings may be appropriate. See generally Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007). After reviewing the entire record, this Court finds that the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence in the record, and is in accordance with the applicable legal standards. Therefore, the Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings is granted, and the Plaintiff's motion is denied.

II. The Commissioner's decision to deny the Plaintiff benefits was supported by substantial evidence in the record.

The ALJ found that the Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Tr. at 17-18. In his decision, the ALJ adhered to the required 5-step sequential analysis for evaluating Social Security disability benefits cases. Id. at 9-18. The 5-step analysis requires the ALJ to consider the following:

(1) Whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity;

(2) if not, whether the claimant has a severe impairment which significantly limits his physical or mental ability to do basic work activities;

(3) if the claimant suffers a severe impairment, the ALJ considers whether the claimant has an impairment which is listed in Appendix 1, Subpart P, Regulation No. 4, if so, the claimant is presumed disabled;

(4) if not, the ALJ considers whether the impairment prevents the claimant from doing past relevant work;

(5) if the claimant's impairments prevent her from doing past relevant work, if other work exists in significant numbers in the national economy that accommodate the claimant's residual functional capacity and vocational factors, the claimant is not disabled.

20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v) and 416.920(a)(4)(i)-(v).

In this case, the ALJ found that: (1) the Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since October 30, 2007; (2) the Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: low back and neck pain; (3) the Plaintiff's impairments do not meet or medically equal the listed impairments in Appendix 1, Subpart P, Regulation No. 4; (4) the Plaintiff has no past relevant work, but can complete light or sedentary work which requires lifting 20 pounds occasionally and/or 10 pounds frequently, sitting, standing and/or walking for about 6 hours in an 8-hour workday, pushing and/or pulling machinery controls, and does not include overhead lifting, and (5) there are a significant number of jobs in the national economy that the Plaintiff, considering his age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, can perform. Tr. at 12-17. Therefore, the ALJ concluded that the Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Id. at 17-18. This Court finds that the ALJ's decision was supported by substantial evidence in the record.

Plaintiff's lower back and neck pain originally resulted from a work-related injury occurring on July 25, 1991. Id. 24-25, 290. Plaintiff's medical record begins with an x-ray of Plaintiff's lumbosacral spine on August 2, 1991 by Dr. Peter Mehnert, M.D. which shows normal results. Id. at 173. Then, on August 2, 1991, Dr. James T. Haggerty conducted a CT scan of Plaintiff's lumbosacral spine. Id. at 174. The results indicated very slight disc bulging at L3-4, "considerable disc bulging centrally and increased prominence of the ligamentum flavum" at L4-5, and no evidence of abnormality at L5-S1. Id. Overall, Dr. Haggerty noted Plaintiff had "relative spinal stenosis at L3-4 secondary to slight disc protrusion and very prominent ligamentum flavum" as well as "disc bulging with borderline herniation at L5-S1." Id.

Plaintiff filed a worker's compensation claim in connection with the work-related injury occurring on July 25, 1991 in which Plaintiff was found to have a "partial disability." Id. at 31. The Plaintiff was examined by Dr. Fowler who diagnosed a partial disability and recommended further neurological examination. Id. Dr. Fowler's exam revealed "level shoulders, hips, and gluteal folds with normal lordosis," but mild left paraspinal muscle spasms and straight leg raises were positive on the right. Id. Dr. Fowler also noted good motion at the waist and a good heel to toe walk. Id.

In addition, Dr. Andre R. Lefebvre conducted an independent examination of Plaintiff for his Worker's Compensation claim. Id. at 282-87. Dr. Lefebvre diagnosed "recurring right sided low back pain syndrome with transient radioculopathy, no myelopathy found," a "partial, mild to moderate" disability, and Plaintiff's employability was "light to medium capacity" with suggested "job retraining at VESID." Id. at 286-87. In his review of Plaintiff's medical records, Dr. Lefebvre noted that Dr. Pearle diagnosed Plaintiff with a "moderate temporary partial disability which limits lifting over 20 pounds" on August 27, 1993. Id. at 283.

A third consultive physician diagnosed Plaintiff with a permanent partial disability in connection with his worker's compensation ...


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