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Christopher Reynolds v. Commissioner of Social Security

June 6, 2012

CHRISTOPHER REYNOLDS, PLAINTIFF, -
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Neal P. McCURN, Senior District Court Judge

MEMORANDUM - DECISION AND ORDER

This action was filed by plaintiff Christopher Reynolds ("plaintiff") pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to review the final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"), who denied his application for Supplemental Security Income benefits ("SSI") . Currently before the court is plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings (Doc. No. 11) seeking reversal of the Commissioner's decision with a finding of disability, or in the alternative, an order of remand for a new hearing. Also before the court is the Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings (Doc. No. 12) seeking affirmation of the Commissioner's findings. For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's motion is granted, and plaintiff's motion is denied.

I. Procedural History and Facts

For reasons unknown, plaintiff did not submit a statement of facts in his brief. The following facts are taken from the Commissioner's brief, which incorporates by reference the May 24, 2010 decision of the Administrative Law Judge Terence Farrell ("the ALJ"). The Commissioner also provides additional evidence from the record in his brief. The court has completed a comprehensive review of the record and will add additional relevant facts from the record as it deems necessary.

A. Procedural History

On September 22, 2008, plaintiff filed an application for SSI. Tr. 111--14. This application was denied at the initial determination level on January 12, 2009. Tr. 51--56. On February 9, 2009, plaintiff requested a hearing before an ALJ. Tr. 59. On April 29, 2010, plaintiff appeared with his attorney before the ALJ. Tr. 20--50. After considering the documentary evidence, plaintiff's testimony, and the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ issued a decision dated May 24, 2010, in which he denied plaintiff's claim. Tr. 8--19. On May 19, 2011, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision for judicial review. Tr. 1--4. This action followed.

B. Facts

Plaintiff was born on June 8, 1989, and was nineteen years old on the date his application for SSI was filed. Plaintiff's medical history reveals that he had one kidney removed on November 25, 1989 (Tr. 343), secondary to kidney disease, and he had foot surgery for a congenital club foot when he was approximately ten months old. Tr. 15. Follow up visits to plaintiff's pediatric urologists and the Arizona Kidney Disease and Hypertension Center indicate polycystic kidney disease and compensatory hypertrophy of the remaining kidney, but no ongoing problems with the functioning of the remaining kidney. See, e.g., Tr. 355-58; 365-75.

Plaintiff has a high school education, and some college. Plaintiff's school records indicated that he was physically able to participate in activities and that there were no physical or motor needs to be addressed. School records indicated that plaintiff had an Individualized Education Program ("IEP") in place during the 2005/2006 school year, and was receiving some assistance in math and writing, and was classified with "other health impairment." Review of available school records indicate that despite being socially self-conscious, plaintiff had friends in school and had grown in his ability to share personal interests and hobbies. Tr. 15. Plaintiff has no past relevant work, having held only one job as a ticket taker for a period of one or two days.

Plaintiff's learning impairments qualified him for assistance from the New York State Education Department's Office of Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities ("VESID"). In a case note dated July 14, 2008, plaintiff's impairments were listed as general social anxiety and avoidant personality, and autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease. Tr. 256, 259. He was found to be "eligible for vocational rehabilitation services from VESID based on your disability, which affects your ability to work, and because you will need help to get or keep a job." Tr. 254. Plaintiff was found to have difficulty communicating through writing, and difficulty writing legibly. Plaintiff had problems with social interaction, due to behavior depicted as withdrawn, which resulted in plaintiff feeling awkward and unpleasant in social situations. Plaintiff also had problems with work skills, including difficulties generating strategies to solve a problem, which resulted in plaintiff requiring specialized instruction methods, extended learning periods, assistive technology and other accommodations. Tr.256. Plaintiff was also found to have problems with fine motor coordination; problems with initiative; inability to tolerate environmental conditions, needing to avoid stressful situations; and problems with attention, with an inability to stay on task for appropriate periods of time. Tr. 257. It was determined that plaintiff would require vocational rehabilitation services for a period of six months or more.

The VESID case note indicated that plaintiff was attending Columbia Greene Community College ("CGCC"), majoring in Social Science at his own expense. In the previous semester, plaintiff reported that he took two classes in history and obtained an A and an A-. It was noted that VESID could not assist with plaintiff's college because his studies did not have a vocational goal. Tr. 259-63. A case note dated August 19, 2008 indicated that plaintiff was being referred to the Mental Health Association ("MHA") of Columbia-Greene Counties for supported employment services. Tr. 265. The case note stated that plaintiff and VESID were expecting job coaching services to help plaintiff obtain and keep a job of his liking. Tr. 268. Plaintiff was encouraged to obtain a driver's permit in order for VESID to be able to assist him in obtaining driver training. Tr. 269. Despite the proffered services available to him, however, on September 22, 2008, plaintiff filed an application for SSI. Tr. 111--14. Plaintiff moved to Arizona in early 2009 with his grandmother, and continues to reside there. Tr. 18; 373.

On January 12, 2009, the Social Security Administration ("SSA") mailed plaintiff a Notice of Disapproved Claim, stating that "[w]e have determined that your condition is not severe enough to keep you from working. We considered the medical and other information, your age, education, training, and work experience in determining how your condition affects your ability to work." The letter continued, stating that "[y]ou said you were disabled because of one kidney, slow learner and mental delays. The medical evidence shows that you have status post right kidney removal, affective disorder, and anxiety related disorder. The reports did not show any conditions of a nature that would prevent you from working." Tr. 56. The SSA determined that "[w]e realize that at present you are unable to perform certain kinds of work. But based on your age of 19 years, your education of 12 years, and your experience, you can perform medium work (for example, you could lift a maximum of 50 lbs., with frequent lifting or carrying of objects weighing up to 25 lbs) a job in which you would have simple tasks." Id. Plaintiff appealed the decision, and a hearing was held on April 29, 2010 in front of the ALJ and Esperanza DiStefano, who testified as a vocational expert ("the VE"). Tr. 44--50.

II. ...


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