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Lavoris Evans v. Michael J. Astrue

December 12, 2012

LAVORIS EVANS, 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 Lavoris Evans ("Plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3) and 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"), denying his application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that the decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") denying his application for benefits was not supported by substantial evidence and was contrary to applicable legal standards.

Plaintiff has moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure ("Rule 12(c)") and 42 U.S.C. 405(g) seeking to reverse the Commissioner's decision or, in the alternative, to remand the matter for reconsideration of the evidence. The Commissioner has cross-moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) on the grounds that the ALJ's decision was supported by substantial evidence and was legally correct.

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

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff filed an application on February 7, 2009, for SSI claiming a disability since August 25, 2008, due to sciatica and piriformis syndrome-a neuromuscular disorder in the leg. At the time he filed his application, Plaintiff was thirty-eight years old and had performed past work as a laborer in waste management and in customer services at a phone company. Plaintiff's application was denied by the Social Security Administration ("the Administration") on April 17, 2009. On May 29, 2009, Plaintiff filed a written request for a hearing.

Plaintiff appeared for the hearing, with counsel, before ALJ Barry Peffley on August 18, 2010. The ALJ appeared via videoconference. Richard M. Smith, a vocational expert, testified by phone at the hearing. In a decision dated September 20, 2010, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Social Security Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on November 18, 2011. On December 30, 2011, Plaintiff filed this action.

DISCUSSION

I. Jurisdiction and Scope of Review

Title 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) grants jurisdiction to district courts to hear claims based on the denial of Social Security benefits. This 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. 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); see also Moore v. Sec'y of Health and Human Services, 778 F.2d 127, 130 (2d Cir. 1985). Section 405(g) thus limits the Court's scope of review to determining whether the Commissioner's findings were supported by substantial evidence, and whether the Commissioner employed the proper legal standards in evaluating the plaintiff's claim. See Mongeur v. Heckler, 722 F.2d 1033, 1038 (2d Cir. 1983) (stating that a reviewing court does not decide a benefits case de novo).

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 a review of 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 Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007).

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

In his decision, the ALJ adhered to the five-step sequential analysis for evaluating Social Security disability benefits claims, which requires the ALJ to consider the following factors:

(1) whether the claimant is engaged in any substantial gainful work activity;

(2) if not, whether the claimant has a severe impairment that significantly limits his ability to work;

(3) whether the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments meets or medically equals a listed impairment contained in Appendix 1, Subpart P, Regulation No. 4; if so, claimant is considered disabled;

(4) if not, the ALJ determines whether the impairment prevents the claimant from performing past relevant work; if the claimant has the residual functional capacity to do his past work, he is not disabled;

(5) even if the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments prevents him from doing past relevant work, if other work exists in significant numbers in the national economy that accommodates his residual functional capacity and vocational factors, he is not disabled.

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

At Step One of the sequential evaluation, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged disability onset date. (Transcript of Administrative Proceedings ("Tr.") at 15). At Step Two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease, back pain, leg pain, and leg numbness. (Tr. at 15). At Step Three, the ALJ concluded that although severe, the Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal, alone or in combination, ...


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