United States District Court, E.D. New York
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
L. TOWNES United States District Judge.
Johnson (“Plaintiff”) initiated this suit pro
se, seeking judicial review of the Commissioner of
Social Security's (the “Commissioner”)
decision denying Plaintiff's application for disability
insurance benefits. Before the Court is the
Commissioner's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings,
which Plaintiff has not opposed despite receiving ample
notice and explanatory statements required by Local Rules
12.1 and 56.2. For the reasons set forth below, it is ORDERED
that the Commissioner's motion (ECF No. 11) is
applied for disability benefits in March of 2013 alleging
disability since the end of January of the same year related
to heart problems and human immunodeficiency virus
(“HIV”). (Tr. 82-88, 102). After the
application was initially denied, Plaintiff appeared before
an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on March 12,
2014. (Tr. 27-35). Documentary evidence before the ALJ
disclosed that Plaintiff was gainfully employed before, on,
and after his alleged onset date in January of 2013.
Specifically, the “Work Background” section of
his application form indicated that he worked two jobs from
the early 1990s through the date of his hearing, one at the
New York State Office of the Comptroller (the
“NYSOC”) and another at the Aichhorn Center for
Adolescent Residential Care (the "Aichhorn
Center"). (Tr. 103; see also Tr. 118, 139).
Other income queries in the record disclosed that he earned a
combined income of $89, 002.33 in 2012 from both jobs, (Tr.
92, 98), and that he earned $29, 935.00 from his employment
at the NYSOC and $21, 361.00 from the Aichhorn Center during
the first two quarters of 2013, (Tr. 89).
hearing in March of 2014, after the ALJ advised Plaintiff of
his right to an attorney and offered to adjourn until he had
procured one, Plaintiff testified that he still maintained
both jobs and explained that he had been working 80-hour
weeks for the past twenty years in order to care for his son.
(Tr. 27-33). He further explained that while he often took
time off for medical appointments and occasionally for
hospital admissions, he maintained fulltime employment at
both institutions despite increasing physical impairments.
(Tr. 30-33). The ALJ voiced his "tremendous
respect" for Plaintiffs gumption, but predicted that the
application would likely be denied on the basis of Plaintiff
s being gainfully employed.
two weeks later the ALJ issued an opinion denying the
application on exactly those grounds, finding that Plaintiff
was not disabled because he engaged in "substantial
gainful activity" as defined by the Social Security Act.
(Tr. 9-12). After the Appeals Council reviewed the ALJ's
decision and denied further review, (Tr. 1-3), Plaintiff
initiated the instant suit in January of 2015. The
Commissioner now moves for dismissal on the same grounds.
205(g) of the Social Security Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g), permits "[a]ny individual, after any
final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security made
after a hearing to which he was a party, . . . [to] obtain a
review of such decision by a civil action commenced within
sixty days after the mailing to him of notice of such
decision ... in the district court of the United States for
the judicial district in which the plaintiff resides." A
reviewing district court has the "power to 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).
reviewing the ALJ's decision, "it is not [this
Court's] function to determine de novo whether
plaintiff is disabled." Schaal v. Apfel 134
F.3d 496, 501 (2d Cir. 1998) (internal quotation marks and
citation omitted). "Rather, [this Court] must determine
whether the Commissioner's conclusions are supported by
substantial evidence in the record as a whole or are based on
an erroneous legal standard." Id. (internal
quotation marks and citation omitted); accord Jordan v.
Comm'r of Social Security, 194 Fed.App'x 59, 61
(2d Cir. 2006) ("We review the agency's final
decision to determine, first, whether the correct legal
standards were applied and, second, whether substantial
evidence supports the decision.") (internal citation
omitted); see also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Substantial evidence has been defined as "such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion." Schaal, 134 F.3d at 501
(quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401
(1971)) (internal quotation marks omitted); accord Veino
v. Barnhart. 312 F.3d 578, 586 (2d Cir. 2002). "To
determine whether the [ALJ's] findings are supported by
substantial evidence, the reviewing court is required to
examine the entire record, including contradictory evidence
and evidence from which conflicting inferences can be
drawn." Snell v. Apfel, 177 F.3d 128, 132 (2d
Cir. 1999) (internal quotations marks and citation omitted).
"When there are gaps in the administrative record or the
ALJ has applied an improper legal standard, " remand to
the Commissioner "for further development of the
evidence" or for an explanation of the ALJ's
reasoning is warranted. Pratts v. Chater, 94 F.3d
34, 39 (2d Cir. 1996).
Social Security regulations "establish a five-step
process" pursuant to which "the Commissioner is
required to evaluate a claim for disability benefits."
Draegert v. Barnhart, 311 F.3d 468, 472 (2d Cir.
2002); accord 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520 (codifying
the five-step analytical framework). The process is one of
sequential evaluation, such that if the Commissioner is able
to make a specified conclusive determination regarding the
claimant's disability at a given step, there is no need
to perform the analysis set forth under the next successive
step. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(4).
one, a claimant's work activity is considered. See 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(4)(i). A finding of "not
disabled" is warranted if the claimant is engaged in
"substantial gainful activity." See id.;
accord Draegert, 311 F.3d at 472. Substantial
gainful activity is all work that involves "doing
significant physical or mental duties" that are
"gainful, " meaning they result in pay or profit
above certain thresholds. 20 .C.F.R. § 404.1572,
404.1574(a). As a general matter, formal employment
constitutes substantial gainful activity. However, work
performed under "special conditions" may, in some
scenarios, not constitute substantial gainful
activity, such as when one needs special assistance to
perform the work in question, is allowed comparatively long
breaks or lowered standards of productivity, or is given the
opportunity to continue working due to family relationships
or past associations with employers. 20 C.F.R. 404.1573. The
"primary consideration, " however, is the amount of
earnings derived from work activity. 20 C.F.R. 404.1574.
Generally, if average earnings after 2001 exceed $700 per
month adjusted for inflation from 1998 with reference to the
national average wage index, then the underlying work is
substantial gainful activity. Id.
the ALJ's finding that Plaintiff was engaged in
substantial gainful activity was supported by substantial
evidence. Plaintiffs application forms and testimony
disclosed that he worked two fulltime jobs and earned amounts
significantly above the threshold amount throughout all
relevant time periods. Beyond Plaintiffs testimony that he
missed work to receive medical care and had difficulties
walking stairs, the record provides no evidence with which he
could meet his burden to show that he worked under
"special conditions" not qualifying as substantial
gainful activity. See Figueroa-Prumey v. Astrue, 764
F.Supp.2d 646, 651 (S.D.N.Y. 2011). In short, Plaintiffs
income and work history prevent him from being deemed
disabled at step one of the analysis. The Court echoes the
ALJ's "deep respect" for Plaintiffs work
history, but finds no grounds to vacate the decision below.
reasons set forth above, the Commissioner's motion for
judgment on the pleadings is GRANTED. The Clerk of Court is