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S.C. v. Colvin

United States District Court, S.D. New York

April 29, 2014

S.C., Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Defendant.

For the Plaintiff: S.C., pro se

For the Defendant: Susan D. Baird Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York 86 Chambers Street, 3rd Floor New York, NY 10007

OPINION AND ORDER

DENISE COTE, District Judge.

Plaintiff S.C. brings this action, seeking review of an order of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") that denied S.C.'s application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits and disability benefits under the Social Security Act ("the Act"). S.C. initially applied for such benefits on September 27, 2010. He claimed that he became disabled as of January 20, 2009 due to human immunodeficiency virus ("HIV"), herpes, and syphilis. After his application was denied, S.C. requested an ALJ hearing. The hearing took place on September 9, 2011, before Administrative Law Judge Robert C. Dorf ("ALJ"). On December 5, 2011, the ALJ found that S.C. did not qualify for the benefits because, despite his medical conditions, he was capable of performing his past relevant work. S.C. then filed a request for review of the ALJ's decision, which was denied by the Appeals Board on October 9, 2012, rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. This petition followed.

S.C.'s complaint was filed on December 12, 2012. The matter was reassigned to this Court on February 5, 2013. A July 11, 2013 Order of this Court set a deadline for any motions and required the non-moving party to serve a responsive brief within thirty days of any such motion. After being granted various extensions, the Commissioner moved for judgment on the pleadings on November 11, 2013. According to a certificate of service, S.C. was served with the motion on January 7, 2014. A January 8, 2014 Order, which was mailed to S.C., set a deadline for S.C. to oppose the motion by February 14. S.C. failed to submit an opposition brief. This Court has conducted an independent review of the administrative record and has determined, for the reasons that follow, that the petition for review lacks merit.

DISCUSSION

In reviewing the decision of the Commissioner, a district court may "enter, upon the pleadings and transcript of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing." 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). A court must uphold the Commissioner's determination to deny benefits unless it is unsupported by substantial evidence or is based on an incorrect legal standard. Selian v. Astrue , 708 F.3d 409, 417 (2d Cir. 2013). Substantial evidence in this context means "more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id . (citation omitted). "[A]n ALJ's credibility determination is generally entitled to deference on appeal." Id . at 420.

The Commissioner will find a claimant disabled under the Act if the claimant demonstrates 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 that 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). The claimant's impairment 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." Id . § 423(d)(2)(A). The disability must be "demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques." Id . § 423(d)(3).

The Commissioner uses a five-step process when making disability determinations. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520 & 416.920. The Second Circuit has described the process as follows:

First, the Commissioner considers whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity. If he is not, the Commissioner next considers whether the claimant has a "severe impairment" which significantly limits his physical or mental ability to do basic work activities. If the claimant suffers such an impairment, the third inquiry is whether, based solely on medical evidence, the claimant has an impairment which is listed in Appendix 1 of the regulations. If the claimant has such an impairment, the Commissioner will consider him [per se] disabled. Assuming the claimant does not have a listed impairment, the fourth inquiry is whether, despite the claimant's severe impairment, he has the residual functional capacity to perform his past work. Finally, if the claimant is unable to perform his past work, the Commissioner then determines whether there is other work which the claimant could perform.

Selian , 708 F.3d 417-18 (citation omitted). A claimant bears the burden of proof as to the first four steps, while the Commissioner bears the burden in the final step. Id . at 418.

The ALJ's conclusions regarding each of the "five steps" identified in the relevant SSA regulations and discussed in Selian , 708 F.3d at 417-18, were supported by substantial evidence. The ALJ first concluded that S.C. was not engaged in any substantial gainful activity, had not done so since the alleged onset of his disability, and that his HIV could be considered "severe" insofar as it "significantly limit[s] [his] physical or mental ability to do basic work activities." 20 C.F.R. § 416.921(b). S.C. presumably does not challenge these conclusions, which were in any event substantially supported by the administrative record.

The ALJ also concluded that, while S.C.'s HIV could be considered "severe, " it does not constitute a listed impairment under 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. The ALJ considered the specific listing for HIV, Listing 14.08, but concluded that S.C. does not meet the requirements for Listing 14.08 because his HIV is asymptomatic. This finding was supported by substantial evidence, including S.C.'s own testimony.

Having reached the above conclusions, the ALJ then reviewed the medical record to determine S.C.'s residual functional capacity. Based on a review of the medical evidence, the ALJ found that S.C. has the capacity to perform "the full ...


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