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Becker v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. New York

May 14, 2014

CHRISTOPHER M. BECKER, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.

REGINA A. WALKER, ESQ., Jeffrey Freedman Attorneys, Buffalo, New York, Attorneys for Plaintiff.

WILLIAM J. HOCHUL, JR., United States Attorney, Western District of New York, (RICHARD D. KAUFMAN, AUSA, of Counsel), Buffalo, New York, Attorneys for Defendant.

JOHN T. CURTIN, District Judge.

This matter was transferred to the undersigned for all further proceedings, by order of Chief United States District Judge William M. Skretny dated November 14, 2013 (Item 17).

Plaintiff Christopher Becker initiated this action pursuant to Section 405(g) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to review the final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security (the "Commissioner") denying plaintiff's application for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits ("DIB"). The Commissioner has filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (Item 18). For the following reasons, the Commissioner's motion is granted.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff was born on October 13, 1975 (Tr. 78).[2] He applied for DIB on April 21, 2008, alleging disability as of February 4, 2008 due to bipolar disorder, post traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD"), depression, and anxiety (Tr. 144). Plaintiff's application was denied on July 1, 2008 (Tr. 79-82). Plaintiff requested a hearing, which was held on June 9, 2010 before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Bruce Mazzarella (Tr. 33-77). Plaintiff testified at the hearing and was represented by counsel.

By decision dated June 24, 2010, the ALJ found that plaintiff was not under a disability within the meaning of the Social Security Act (Tr. 21-30). The ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final determination when the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review (Tr. 1-3).

Plaintiff then filed this action on August 27, 2012, pursuant to the judicial review provision of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). On December 2, 2013, the Commissioner filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings on the ground that the ALJ's determination must be upheld because it is supported by substantial evidence in the record ( see Item 18). Plaintiff declined to file either a cross motion or a response to the Commissioner's motion.

DISCUSSION

I. Scope of Judicial Review

The Social Security Act states that upon district court review of the Commissioner's decision, "the findings of the Commissioner... as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive...." 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence is defined as evidence which "a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938), quoted in Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); see also Tejada v. Apfel, 167 F.3d 770, 773-72 (2d Cir. 1999). Under these standards, the scope of judicial review of the Commissioner's decision is limited, and the reviewing court may not try a case de novo or substitute its findings for those of the Commissioner. Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401. The court's inquiry is "whether the record, read as a whole, yields such evidence as would allow a reasonable mind to accept the conclusions reached" by the Commissioner. Sample v. Schweiker, 694 F.2d 639, 642 (9th Cir. 1982), quoted in Winkelsas v. Apfel, 2000 WL 575513, at *2 (W.D.N.Y. February 14, 2000).

However, "[b]efore the insulation of the substantial evidence test comes into play, it must first be determined that the facts of a particular case have been evaluated in light of correct legal standards." Klofta v. Mathews, 418 F.Supp. 1139, 1141 (E.D. Wis. 1976), quoted in Gartmann v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 633 F.Supp. 671, 680 (E.D.N.Y. 1986). The Commissioner's determination cannot be upheld when it is based ...


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