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Kyle D. Walters v. Michael J. Astrue

April 24, 2013

KYLE D. WALTERS, 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

Represented by counsel, Kyle D. Walters ("Plaintiff" or "Walters"), brings this action pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act ("the Act"), seeking review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("the Commissioner") denying his application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB"). The Court has jurisdiction over this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 405.

Presently before the Court are the parties' competing motions for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. 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.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On July 30, 2008, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB, claiming that he was disabled due to anxiety, depression, drug abuse history, and neck injuries beginning on July 8, 2003. Plaintiff's claim was denied on November 18, 2008. Administrative Transcript ("Tr") 46, 49-56. At Plaintiff's request, an administrative hearing was conducted on August 10, 2010, with Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Paul Lang, presiding via videoconference. Tr. 26-45. Walters, who was represented by attorney Amanda Jordan, testified at the hearing, as did vocational expert Luther Piersaw, Ph.D. ("Piersaw" or "the VE").

On August 17, 2010, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Walters was not disabled during the period from his alleged onset date through his date last insured. Tr. 8-25, 46. On December 6, 2010, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Tr. 1-5. This action followed.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff has adopted the summary of the relevant medical evidence set forth in Defendant's Memorandum of Law (Dkt No. 6). Briefly, Plaintiff was diagnosed with lumbar stenosis and a herniated disc in 2001, for which he received epidural injections in 2001 and 2002. Tr. 236-44. Plaintiff has undergone physical therapy in December 2004, due to complains of sharp pain in his lumbar spine and numbness in his left thigh. Tr. 291.

Plaintiff has been monitored over the years for ischemic changes in the anterior wall of his heart. Tr. 328, 375. Testing has been within normal limits. Id.

Plaintiff has a history of dependence on and abuse of multiple controlled substances. On January 23, 2004, Plaintiff commenced in-patient treatment for substance abuse and reported a past diagnosis of depression and a 2003 hospitalization for a drug overdose. Tr. 251. He was diagnosed with opioid dependence and assigned a GAF of 34. Tr. 249, 261. Upon his discharge on February 23, 2004, he was diagnosed as Opiate, Cocaine and Amphetamine Dependent, with Mood Order and Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder. His GAF was 39. Tr. 378, 381.

Over the next few years, Plaintiff sought further treatment for his substance dependency. After treatment at an outpatient clinic from June 7, to June 17, 2004, Plaintiff had a GAF of 65 and had successfully completed all his treatment goals. Tr. 298, 299.

Beginning in 2006, Plaintiff commenced regular treatment with psychiatrists for his mood disorders and was prescribed medications. E.g., Tr. 481-482 (Report of Dr. Fernando). Reports from his treating psychiatrists indicate that Plaintiff has benefitted from his antidepressant medication, and although at times somewhat dysphoric and anxious, generally has a stable mood and is future-oriented. E.g., Tr. 493 (Report of Dr. Cirpili).

The medical evidence of record, along with Plaintiff's testimony, will be discussed below in further detail as necessary.

DISCUSSION

I. Scope of Review

Title 42 U.S.C., Section 405(g) directs the 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 "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). The Court's scope of review is limited to determining whether the Commissioner's findings were supported by substantial evidence in the record, and whether the Commissioner employed the proper legal standards in evaluating the plaintiff's claim. Mongeur v. Heckler, 722 F.2d 1033, 1038 (2d Cir. 1983).

Judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) 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 the plaintiff has not set forth a plausible claim for relief, judgment ...


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