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Digiacomo v. Commissioner of Social Security

April 16, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Baylson, J.


Plaintiff, Anthony M. DiGiacomo, proceeding pro se, seeks judicial review of the decision by the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the "Commissioner") denying his application for Supplemental Security Income under the Social Security Act ("the Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381 et seq. After careful and independent consideration of the matter, and for the following reasons, the Court will affirm the Commissioner's decision.

I. Background and Procedural History

On November 8, 2006, plaintiff protectively filed an application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"), alleging disability beginning on August 14, 2001. (R. 12). Plaintiff is blind in his right eye and complains of symptoms resulting from diabetes mellitus, hypertension, and hyperlipidemia, as well as side effects resulting from medications prescribed with respect to these conditions, that prevent him from working.

The Social Security Administration denied plaintiff's application on April 9, 2007. (R. 53--57). Plaintiff timely requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). The hearing was held before ALJ Owen B. Katzmann on November 3, 2008.*fn1 At the hearing, ALJ Katzmann received testimony from plaintiff and from Steve H. Gumerman, Ph.D., a vocational expert. (R. 20--46). In his written decision of December 24, 2008, ALJ Katzmann denied plaintiff's application, holding that plaintiff was not "disabled" within the meaning of the Act.

(R. 12--19). In particular, the ALJ found that plaintiff suffered from the severe impairment of blindness in the right eye, but that plaintiff's complaints of diabetes mellitus, hyperlipidemia, and hypertension were non-severe and his complaint of right arm and knee pain was not medically determinable. With respect to plaintiff's blindness in his right eye, the ALJ found that this severe impairment did not meet or medically equal one of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App.1, due to the quality of corrected vision in plaintiff's left eye. The ALJ then determined that plaintiff had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels, subject to the non-exertional limitation that he can only see with his left eye, and that plaintiff is able to perform past relevant work doing demolition work. While this determination was sufficient in itself to render plaintiff not "disabled" under the Act, the ALJ continued his analysis in the alternative, determining that, based on plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, there were jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that plaintiff could perform.

Plaintiff timely filed a request for review of the ALJ's decision. On May 14, 2009, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request. (R. 1--4). Plaintiff subsequently filed the instant action challenging the decision of the ALJ on numerous grounds. Plaintiff filed a Complaint requesting review on June 18, 2009 (Doc. 3), which he later amended (Doc. 8). Defendant filed an Answer on August 21, 2009. (Doc. 10). Plaintiff filed his Brief and Statement of Issues in Support of Request for Review on December 8, 2009 (Doc. 13), to which defendant responded on January 11, 2010 (Doc. 14). Plaintiff filed a Rebuttal to this Response on January 25, 2010. (Doc. 15). On March 3, 2010, plaintiff filed a Statement regarding confirmation of his medical incapacity (Doc. 16); the following day, defendant filed a Motion for Leave to File a Response to Plaintiff's Statement, with the proposed Response attached (Doc. 17).

II. Legal Standards

A. Jurisdiction

The Social Security Act provides for judicial review by this Court of any "final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security" in a disability proceeding. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). A district court may enter a judgment "affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing." Id.

B. Standard of Review

On judicial review of the Commissioner's decision, the Commissioner's findings "as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive." Id. "Substantial evidence is 'such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion' . . . ." Rutherford v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d 546, 552 (3d Cir. 2005) (quoting Reefer v. Barnhart, 326 F.3d 376, 379 (3d Cir. 2003)). In reviewing the record for substantial evidence, however, the Court " may not 'weigh the evidence or substitute [its own] conclusions for those of the fact-finder.'" Id. (quoting Williams v. Sullivan, 970 F.2d 1178, 1182 (3d Cir. 1992)). The Court's review of the legal standards applied by the ALJ is plenary. See Allen v. Barnhart, 417 F.3d 396, 398 (3d Cir. 2005).

C. Disability Claims Analysis

The Social Security Act defines disability as an "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 ...

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