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Goodale v. Astrue

United States District Court, N.D. New York

December 13, 2012

MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant

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For Rodger Goodale, Plaintiff: Howard D. Olinsky, Olinsky Law Group, Syracuse, NY.

For Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant: Sixtina Fernandez, LEAD ATTORNEY, Social Security Administration, Office of Regional General Counsel, New York, NY.


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In June of 2007, Plaintiff Rodger Goodale applied for supplemental security income (" SSI" ) benefits and disability insurance benefits (" DIB" ) under the Social Security Act. Plaintiff alleges tat he has been unable to work since October 2005 due to physical impairments. The Commissioner of Social Security denied Plaintiff's applications.

Plaintiff, by and through his attorneys, Olinsky Law Group, Howard D. Olinsky, Esq., of counsel, commenced this action seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C.

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§ § 405 (g) and 1383 (c)(3). The parties, by and through their respective counsel, consented to the jurisdiction of a United States Magistrate Judge on October 30, 2012. (Docket No. 15).


The relevant procedural history may be summarized as follows:

On June 19, 2007, Plaintiff applied for SSI benefits and DIB, alleging that he had been unable to work since October 3, 2005. (T at 80,89, 123).[1] The applications were denied initially and Plaintiff timely requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (" ALJ" ). A hearing was held in Syracuse, New York, on August 4, 2009, before ALJ Thomas P. Tielens. (T at22). Plaintiff appeared with his attorney and testified. (T at 25-42.

On August 27, 2009, ALJ Tielens issued a written decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act during the relevant time period and denying Plaintiff's claims for benefits. (T at 13-19). The ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision on May 26, 2011, when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (T at 1-6).

Plaintiff, by and through his attorney, timely commenced this action by filing a Complaint on July 15, 2011. (Docket No. 1). The Commissioner interposed an Answer on January 20, 2012. (Docket No. 7). Plaintiff filed a supporting Brief on March 5, 2012. (Docket No. 11). The Commissioner filed a Brief in opposition on April 19, 2012. (Docket No. 12). As noted above, the parties, through their respective attorneys of record, consented to the jurisdiction of a United States Magistrate Judge on October 30, 2012. (Docket No. 15).

Pursuant to General Order No. 18, issued by the Chief District Judge of the Northern District of New York on September 12, 2003, this Court will proceed as if both parties had accompanied their briefs with a motion for judgment on the pleadings.[2]

For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds that the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence and, as such, Plaintiff's motion is denied and the Commissioner's motion is granted.


A. Legal Standard

A court reviewing a denial of disability benefits may not determine de novo whether an individual is disabled. See 42 U.S.C. § § 405(g), 1383(c)(3); Wagner v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 906 F.2d 856, 860 (2d Cir.1990). Rather, the Commissioner's determination will only be reversed if the correct legal standards were not applied, or it was not supported by substantial evidence. Johnson v. Bowen, 817 F.2d 983, 986 (2d Cir.1987) (" Where there is a reasonable basis for doubt whether the ALJ applied correct legal principles, application of the substantial evidence standard to uphold a finding of no disability creates an unacceptable risk that a claimant will be deprived of the right to have her disability determination made according to the correct legal principles." ); see Grey v. Heckler, 721 F.2d 41, 46 (2d Cir.1983); Marcus v. Califano, 615 F.2d 23, 27 (2d Cir.1979).

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" Substantial evidence" is evidence that amounts to " more than a mere scintilla," and it has been defined as " such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 1427, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971). Where evidence is deemed susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the Commissioner's conclusion must be upheld. See Rutherford v. Schweiker, 685 F.2d 60, 62 (2d Cir.1982).

If supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's finding must be sustained " even where substantial evidence may support the plaintiff's position and despite that the court's independent analysis of the evidence may differ from the [Commissioner's]." Rosado v. Sullivan, 805 F.Supp. 147, 153 (S.D.N.Y.1992). In other words, this Court must afford the Commissioner's determination considerable deference, and may not substitute " its own judgment for that of the [Commissioner], even if it might justifiably have reached a different result upon a de novo review." Valente v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 733 F.2d 1037, 1041 (2d Cir.1984).

The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential evaluation process to determine whether an individual is disabled as defined under the Social Security Act. See 20 C.F.R. § § 416.920, 404.1520. The United States Supreme Court recognized the validity of this analysis in Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140-142, 107 S.Ct. 2287, 96 L.Ed.2d 119 (1987), and it remains the proper approach for analyzing whether a claimant is disabled.[3]

While the claimant has the burden of proof as to the first four steps, the Commissioner has the burden of proof on the fifth and final step. See Bowen, 482 U.S. at 146 n. 5; Ferraris v. Heckler, 728 F.2d 582 (2d Cir.1984).

The final step of the inquiry is, in turn, divided into two parts. First, the Commissioner must assess the claimant's job qualifications by considering his or her physical ability, age, education, and work experience. Second, the Commissioner must determine whether jobs exist in the national economy that a person having the claimant's qualifications could perform. See 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A); 20 C.F.R. § § 416.920(g); 404.1520(g); Heckler v. Campbell, 461 U.S. 458, 460, 103 S.Ct. 1952, 76 L.Ed.2d 66 (1983).

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B. Analysis

1. Commissioner's Decision

The ALJ determined that Plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through March 31, 2007, and had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since October 3, 2005, the alleged onset date. (T at 15).

The ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following impairments considered " severe" under the applicable Social Security Regulations (the " Regulations" ): Human immunodeficiency virus (" HIV" ), history of hepatitis C, and cirrhosis of the liver. (T at 16). However, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's medically determinable impairments did not meet or equal one of the impairments listed in ...

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