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John Donlon v. Michael J. Astrue

July 25, 2011

JOHN DONLON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. 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 John Donlon ("Plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) challenging the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying Plaintiff's claim for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act ("the Act").

Plaintiff moves for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 12(c) ("Rule 12(c)") on the grounds that the decision of the Administrative Law Judge, Thomas P. Tielens ("ALJ"), was not supported by substantial evidence in the record. The Commissioner also moves for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) arguing that the ALJ's decision was based on substantial evidence in the record.

For the reasons set forth herein, I find that the decision of the Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence in the record. Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings is granted, and Plaintiff's Complaint is dismissed with prejudice.

Background

On February 13, 2007, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB alleging a disability onset date of June 17, 2006 due to posttraumatic stress disorder and joint pain in his legs. (Tr. at 106, 111).*fn1 The Commissioner initially denied Plaintiff's application. (Tr. at 57-61). Thereafter, Plaintiff filed a written request for a hearing before an ALJ, which was scheduled for August 18, 2009, but postponed to allow Plaintiff an opportunity to retain counsel. (Tr. at 49-56). Plaintiff, still proceeding pro se, attended a second hearing with an ALJ on December 14, 2009. (Tr. at 27-48).

In a decision dated January 28, 2010, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act on or before December 31, 2006, the date Plaintiff was last insured. (Tr. at 8-23). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, and the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. at 1-4). On October 12, 2010, Plaintiff filed this action.

Discussion

1. Jurisdiction and Scope of Review

42 U.S.C. § 405(g) grants jurisdiction to district courts to review claims based on the denial of Social Security benefits. Matthews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 320, 96 S.Ct. 893, 47 L.Ed.2d 18 (1976). The section directs the district 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 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, 217 (1938). Section 405(g) therefore limits this Court's review to two inquiries: (i) whether the Commissioner's conclusions are supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole, and (ii) whether the Commissioner's conclusions are based upon an erroneous legal standard. Green-Younger v. Barnhart, 335 F.3d 99, 105-06 (2d Cir. 2003).

The Commissioner moves for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c). Section 405(g) states that the district court "shall have power to enter, upon the pleadings and transcript of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing." 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2009). Judgment on the pleadings may be granted under Rule 12(c) where the material facts are not in dispute and where judgment on the merits is possible given the contents of the pleadings. Sellers v. M.C. Floor Crafters, Inc., 842 F.2d 639, 642 (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 Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007).

After reviewing the entire record, this Court finds that the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence and is in accordance with the applicable legal standards. Therefore, the Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings is granted, and Plaintiff's motion is denied.

II. Standard for Entitlement to Benefits

A disability, under the Act, is defined as the "inability to engage in substantial gainful activity by reason of a 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. § 1382c (a)(3)(A) (concerning SSI payments). Someone is 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. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2)(A) and 1382c (a)(3)(B).

"Substantial gainful work" is "work that exists in significant numbers either in the region where the individual lives or in several regions of the country." 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2)(A) and 1382c (a)(3)(B). Work can be considered "substantial" even if it is done on a part-time basis, if less money is earned, or if workplace responsibilities are decreased from previous employment. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1572(a) and 416.972(a). Work can be considered "gainful" if it is the kind of work that is usually done for profit. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1572(b) and 416.972(b).

In determining whether or not an individual is disabled, the Social Security Administration requires the ALJ to engage in ...


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