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Spina v. Colvin

United States District Court, N.D. New York

February 7, 2014

ANTHONY SPINA, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

HOWARD D. OLINSKY, ESQ., OLINSKY LAW GROUP, Syracuse, NY, Attorneys for Plaintiff.

SERGEI ADEN, ESQ., OFFICE OF REGIONAL GENERAL COUNSEL SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION REGION II, New York, NY, Attorneys for Defendant.

MEMORANDUM-DECISION and ORDER

DAVID N. HURD, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Anthony Spina ("Spina" or "plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to §§ 205(g) and 1631(c)(3) of the Social Security Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) & 1383(c)(3), to review a final determination of the defendant Commissioner of Social Security denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). Spina alleges that he has been unable to work since February 20, 2009, due to heart problems, a head injury, and a learning disability.

The parties have filed their briefs, including the Administrative Record on Appeal, and the matter has been submitted for decision without oral argument.[1]

II. BACKGROUND

Spina filed an application for DIB and SSI on November 13, 2009, claiming a period of disability beginning on February 20, 2009. His claims were denied on April 23, 2010. Upon plaintiff's request, a hearing was held before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on April 19, 2011. The ALJ rendered a decision on June 1, 2011, denying his claim. Plaintiff appealed the ALJ's decision. On September 22, 2011, the Appeals Council declined further review of the ALJ's decision. Thus, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner.

Plaintiff filed this action on December 20, 2011. The parties' familiarity with the facts, as detailed in plaintiff's brief, is assumed. The facts will therefore only be developed as necessary in the analysis.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Standard of Review

The scope of a court's review of the Commissioner's final decision is limited to determinating whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence and the correct legal standards were applied. Poupore v. Astrue , 566 F.3d 303, 305 (2d Cir. 2009) (per curiam). "Substantial evidence means more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'" Id . (quoting Consol. Edison Co. v. NLRB , 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)).

"To determine on appeal whether an ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence, a reviewing court considers the whole record, examining the evidence from both sides, because an analysis of the substantiality of the evidence must also include that which detracts from its weight." Williams v. Bowen , 859 F.2d 255, 258 (2d Cir. 1988) (citing Universal Camera Corp. v. NLRB , 340 U.S. 474, 488 (1951)). If the Commissioner's disability determination is supported by substantial evidence, that determination is conclusive. Id . Where evidence is deemed susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the Commissioner's decision must be upheld-even if the court's independent review of the evidence may differ from the Commissioner's. See Rutherford v. Schweiker , 685 F.2d 60, 62 (2d Cir. 1982); Rosado v. Sullivan , 805 F.Supp. 147, 153 (S.D.N.Y. 1992).

However, "where there is a reasonable basis for doubting whether the Commissioner applied the appropriate legal standards, " the decision should not be affirmed even though the ultimate conclusion reached is arguably supported by substantial evidence. Martone v. Apfel , 70 F.Supp.2d 145, 148 (N.D.N.Y. 1999) (citing Johnson v. Bowen , 817 F.2d 983, 986 (2d Cir. 1987)).

B. Disability Determination-The Five Step Evaluation Process

The Social Security Act defines "disability" as the "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). In addition, the Act requires that a claimant's

physical or mental impairment or impairments [must be] of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy, regardless of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or whether he would be hired if he applied for work.

Id. § 423(d)(2)(A).

The ALJ must follow a five step evaluative process in determining whether an individual is disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. At Step One, the ALJ must determine whether the claimant is engaging in substantial gainful activity. If the claimant is engaging in substantial gainful activity he is not ...


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