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Amanda Raplee v. Michael J. Astrue

August 6, 2012

AMANDA RAPLEE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Michael A. Telesca United States District Judge

DECISION and ORDER

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff, Amanda Raplee ("plaintiff"), brings this action pro se pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act ("The Act") seeking review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying her application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB"). Specifically, the plaintiff alleges that the decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), John P. Costello, denying her 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 Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and 42 U.S.C. section 405(g), on the grounds that the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence. Plaintiff has not responded to this motion.

For the reasons set forth below, this Court finds that the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence in the record and is in accordance with the applicable legal standards. Accordingly, I grant the Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings.

BACKGROUND

On April 2, 2008, the plaintiff filed an application for DIB benefits under 42 U.S.C. § 423 alleging disability due to depression, anxiety, and right foot pain, with an onset date of April 14, 2007. Transcript of the Administrative Proceedings at 10, 12 (hereinafter "Tr."). The plaintiff's application was denied at the initial stage and upon reconsideration. The plaintiff timely requested a hearing before an ALJ, and appeared before Judge John P. Costello with attorney, Jeffrey Vaisy, on December 21, 2009. In a decision dated January 7, 2010, the ALJ determined that the plaintiff was not disabled. The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Social Security Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review on February 18, 2011. Plaintiff then filed this action pro se.

DISCUSSION

I. Jurisdiction and Scope of Review 42 U.S.C. Section 405(g) grants jurisdiction to Federal District Courts to hear claims based on the denial of Social Security benefits. Matthews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 320 (1976).

Additionally, the section directs that when considering such a claim, the Court must accept the findings of fact made by the Commissioner, provided that such findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record. See Bubnis v. Apfel, 150 F.3d 177, 181 (2d Cir. 1998); see also Williams v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., No. 06-2019-cv, 2007 U.S. App. LEXIS 9396, at *3 (2d Cir. Apr. 24, 2007).

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, 229 (1938). Section 405(g) thus limits this Court's scope of review to two inquiries: 1) whether the Commissioner's conclusions are supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole, and (2) whether the Commissioner's conclusions are based upon an erroneous legal standard. Green-Younger v. Barnhard, 335 F.3d 99, 105-06 (2d Cir. 2003); see also Wagner v. Secretary of Health & Human Serv., 906 F.2d 856, 860 (2d Cir. 1990)(holding that review of the Secretary's decision is not de novo and that the Secretary's findings are conclusive if supported by substantial evidence).

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).

II. Standard for Entitlement to DIB Benefits In order to be entitled to disability insurance benefits, the plaintiff must prove (1) that she has a medically determinable mental or physical impairment which can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months and (2) that she is unable to engage in substantial gainful employment by reason of this impairment. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d), See McMillen v. Califano, 443 F. Supp. 1362, 1365 (N.D.N.Y. 1978). If the plaintiff establishes that her impairment is so severe that she is no longer able to engage in her previous occupation, the burden shifts to the Secretary to come forward with evidence that there is some other kind of substantial gainful employment which the plaintiff, given her age, education, work experience and medical condition, is capable of doing. McMillen, 443 F. Supp. at 1365-1366.

In reviewing a denial of a disability insurance benefits claim, a court must affirm the decision of the Commissioner if it is supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole. Id. at 1366. Substantial evidence means "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id.

Here, after determining that the plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act, the ALJ determined that the plaintiff's depression, anxiety, and right foot pain were "severe" impairments under 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(c). Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date, April 14, 2007, through the date last insured, December 31, 2007. Tr. 12. Accordingly, the relevant period for this proceeding is only eight and one-half months.

The ALJ found that the plaintiff had no past relevant work under 20 C.F.R. § 416.965. Id. at 17. The ALJ then determined that the plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform unskilled, light work, except that she could not have contact with the public and she could only have occasional contact with co-workers. Tr. 17. The ALJ relied upon the testimony of a vocational expert, and concluded that there were jobs that the plaintiff could perform, considering her age, education, work experience and RFC. Id. at 18.

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

A. Plaintiff's Medical History

Plaintiff saw Podiatry Associates of Rochester for treatment of her right foot from August 18, 2008 to November 11, 2008, after the relevant period. Tr. 342-346. According to her treating doctor, Dr. Michael Giordano, claimant was unable to work from August 18, 2008 to January 5, 2009 due to a possible stress fracture and ruptured tendon.

Plaintiff was referred to Dr. Harbinder Toor of Industrial Medicine Associates by the Division of Disability Determination for an orthopedic exam on August 15, 2008. Tr. at 282-284. Dr. Toor observed that the plaintiff had moderate pain in the right foot, radiating to her right leg and lower back. At the time of the examination, she was using crutches. Plaintiff had an abnormal gait and she was limping to the right side, both with and without crutches. During the examination, plaintiff declined to walk on her heels and toes or squat. Plaintiff could not stand for more than a few minutes without crutches, and needed crutches to walk. Plaintiff had full Range of Motion ("ROM") in her upper extremities, her left lower extremities, and her right hip. She had slight pain at her right knee, but her movements were normal and full. Dr. ...


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