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Anthony Sanfilippo v. Michael J. Astrue

July 5, 2011

ANTHONY SANFILIPPO, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Dora L. Irizarry, United States District Judge:

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

Plaintiff Anthony Sanfilippo filed an application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under the Social Security Act ("Act") on August 17, 2007. Plaintiff's application was denied initially and on reconsideration. Plaintiff testified at a hearing held before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on July 29, 2008. By a decision dated October 1, 2008, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. On December 28, 2009, the ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. Plaintiff filed the instant action seeking judicial review of the denial of benefits. The Commissioner moves for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c), seeking affirmation of the denial of benefits. Plaintiff cross-moves for judgment on the pleadings, seeking remand for further administrative proceedings.

For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's motion is denied, Plaintiff's motion is granted, and this matter is remanded to the Commissioner for further administrative proceedings consistent with this Order.

DISCUSSION

A. Standard of Review

A district court, reviewing the final determination of the Commissioner, must determine whether the correct legal standards were applied and whether substantial evidence supports the decision. See Schaal v. Apfel, 134 F.3d 496, 504 (2d Cir. 1998). The former determination requires the court to ask whether the claimant has had "a full hearing under the [Commissioner's] regulations and in accordance with the beneficent purposes of the Act." Echevarria v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 685 F.2d 751, 755 (2d Cir. 1982) (internal quotations omitted). The latter determination requires the court to ask whether the decision is supported by "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)).

B. Disability Claims

To receive disability benefits, claimants must be disabled within the meaning of the Act.

See 42 U.S.C. § 423(a), (d). ALJs must adhere to a five-step inquiry to determine whether a claimant is disabled under the Act as set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. If at any step, the ALJ finds that the claimant is either disabled or not disabled, the inquiry ends there. First, the claimant is not disabled if he or she is working and performing "substantial gainful activity." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b). Second, the ALJ considers whether the claimant has a severe impairment, without reference to age, education or work experience. Impairments are severe when they significantly limit a claimant's physical or mental "ability to conduct basic work activities." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). Third, the ALJ will find the claimant disabled if his or her impairment meets or equals an impairment listed in Appendix 1.*fn1 See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d).

If the claimant does not have a listed impairment, the ALJ makes a finding about the claimant's residual functional capacity ("RFC") in steps four and five. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e), (f). In the fourth step, the claimant is not disabled if he or she is able to perform "past relevant work." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e). Finally, in the fifth step, the ALJ determines whether the claimant could adjust to other work existing in the national economy, considering factors such as age, education, and work experience. If so, the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f). At this fifth step, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to demonstrate that the claimant could perform other work. See Draegert v. Barnhart, 311 F.3d 468, 472 (2d Cir. 2002) (citing Carroll v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs, 705 F.2d 638, 642 (2d Cir. 1983)).

C. ALJ's Decision

ALJ Jordan took account of the five-step sequential analysis laid out in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. First, ALJ Jordan found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 30, 2006, the date of the alleged onset of disability. (Record at 10.) At step two, ALJ Jordan determined that Plaintiff had severe impairments of traumatic femoral neuropathy, carpel tunnel syndrome, obesity, and disorders of the right knee and back. (Id.) At step three, ALJ Jordan found that none of Plaintiff's impairments, either in isolation or in combination, met or equaled impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Id. at 12.) At step four, ALJ Jordan determined that Plaintiff possessed the RFC to "perform less than a full range of light work" and ultimately Plaintiff could perform "his past relevant work as a telecommunications sales and advertisement person as it is generally performed in the national economy." (Id. at 17.) At step five, ALJ Jordan found, based on the testimony of a vocational expert, and taking into consideration Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, that Plaintiff was also able to work as an office helper and library helper. (Id.) In short, ALJ Jordan found that Plaintiff was not disabled from June 30, 2006 through October 1, 2008, the date of the decision. (Id.)

D. Application

The Commissioner seeks judgment on the pleadings, contending that the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence and based upon sound legal conclusions. Plaintiff opposes, cross-moves for judgment on the pleadings, and seeks remand for further administrative proceedings, arguing that: (1) the ALJ gave improper weight to Plaintiff's treating physician; (2) the ALJ followed "unreliable" ...


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