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Young v. Astrue

July 21, 2010

HARRY W. YOUNG, III, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Amy Reynolds Hay Chief United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

HAY, Chief Magistrate Judge

Plaintiff, Harry W. Young ("Young" or "the claimant"), brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review of the Social Security Commissioner's final decision disallowing his claim for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act ("the Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401 - 433. Cross-motions for summary judgment are presently before the Court. For the reasons that follow, the Commissioner's motion will be granted and the claimant's motion denied.

Background

The claimant filed an application for DIB benefits on September 7, 2005, alleging an onset date of January 1, 2004, due to emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease ("COPD"), asthma, hepatitis C, fibromyalgia, arthritis and liver damage (Tr. 70). His claims were initially denied on May 3, 2006, and on July 26, 2006, the claimant filed an untimely written request for a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ") (Tr. 18, 37-41). Having found that good cause had been established for the late filing, a hearing was scheduled for August 13, 2007, at 9:00 a.m. in Johnstown, Pennsylvania (Tr. 18). The claimant, however, failed to appear at the scheduled time, contending that he was unable to locate the Johnstown hearing office, and on August 16, 2007, the claimant and his counsel, who had appeared at the hearing, were sent a Notice to Show Cause for Failure to Appear (Tr. 12, 18). Although the claimant responded in a letter dated August 23, 2007, the ALJ found that he had failed to establish good cause for his failure to appear and issued a decision based solely on the documentary evidence of record (Tr. 12, 18-19). In that decision, issued on October 22, 2007, the ALJ found that the claimant was not disabled as defined under the Act (Tr. 18-26). The Appeals Council denied the claimant's request for review on September 22, 2009, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner (Tr. 6-9). See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981.

The ALJ's Decision

The ALJ utilized the familiar five-step evaluation process articulated at 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4) to determine disability eligibility and concluded that the claimant was not disabled at the fourth step, finding that he was capable of performing the requirements of his past relevant work as a plumber.*fn1 Specifically, the ALJ found that, although the claimant had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since alleging disability on January 1, 2004, and that his cervical and lumbar disc disease and osteoarthritis of his right shoulder were properly considered "severe," his impairments did not meet or medically equal a listed impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (Tr. 21-23). As well, having considered the claimant's symptoms and subjective complaints, the objective medical evidence and opinion evidence as well as the claimant's work record and self-reported activities of daily living, the ALJ determined that the claimant retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform work at the medium exertional level (Tr. 23-26).*fn2

Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that the claimant was not under a disability at any time from January 1, 2004, the alleged onset date, through December 31, 2004, the date last insured (Tr. 26). See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g).

Standard of Review

In reviewing the administrative determination by the Commissioner, the question before the court is whether the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence. Fargnoli v. Massanari, 247 F.3d 34, 38 (3d Cir. 2001). "Substantial evidence has been defined as 'more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate.'" Id., quoting Plummer v. Apfel, 186 F.3d 422, 427 (3d Cir. 1999). Where the ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence, the court is bound by those findings, even if it would have decided the factual inquiry differently. Id.

Discussion

Young initially argues that the ALJ's determination that he failed to establish good cause for failing to appear at the hearing was an abuse of discretion since "injustices may have resulted" from the ALJ's reliance solely on his medical records. Pl. Brief, p. 11. Young, however, does not suggest what those injustices may have been or discuss in what manner the documentary evidence relied upon by the ALJ may have been misinterpreted absent his testimony or what his testimony would have added to the record. Nor has Young addressed the factors used to determine whether good cause exists or cited to any authority which would support a finding that the ALJ abused his discretion under the circumstances.*fn3 See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.911(a)(b), 404.957(b)(2). Indeed, establishing good cause for failing to attend a scheduled hearing largely revolves around whether the claimant or the claimant's representative received proper notification of the hearing or was otherwise prevented from attending the hearing -- neither of which has been alleged much less demonstrated by Young (Tr. 12).*fn4 Id. See HALLEX §§ I-2-4-25B, I-2-0-60.*fn5 Rather, Young merely contends that he was given faulty directions and was unable to locate the hearing office (Tr. 12). He reported no traffic problems or car trouble, did not indicate when he left his residence, what route he took, whether he tried to telephone counsel, or why he did not leave earlier or take steps to travel with his representative if he did not know how to get to the hearing office. Morever, as noted by the ALJ, Young is a high school graduate who, in his previous employment as a self-employed plumber, was required to locate customers' homes. See 20 C.F.R. 404.957(b)(2) (In determining whether good cause exists for failing to appear at a scheduled hearing, the ALJ is to consider "any physical, mental, educational, or linguistic limitations" that the claimant may have). Under these circumstances, it cannot be said that the ALJ abused his discretion in finding that Young failed to show good cause for failing to appear at the scheduled hearing or by issuing his decision based on the documentary evidence of record. See HALLEX § I-2-4-25 D.1.

To the extent that Young suggests that the ALJ's failure to find that he had established good cause denied him the opportunity to be heard in violation of his right to due process, his claim fails as well. Although it is well established that "[b]oth the Social Security Act and basic principles of due process 'require that a claimant receive meaningful notice and an opportunity to be heard before his claim for disability benefits can be denied,'" Young does not dispute that he received notice of the hearing and, thus, had the opportunity to be heard. Brunner v. Astrue, 2008 WL 4372726, at *5 (W.D. Pa. Sept. 23, 2008), quoting Stoner v. Secretary of HHS, 837 F.2d 759, 760-61 (6th Cir. 1988). See 42 U.S.C. § 405(b). Moreover, the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has found that "remand is warranted only if the ALJ's failure to hold a hearing prejudiced [the claimant]." Biswas v. Commissioner of Social Sec., 2007 WL 580523, at *1 (3d Cir. Feb. 26, 2007), citing Hall v. Schweiker, 660 F.2d 116, 119 (5th Cir. 1981). Here, Young has failed to demonstrate how he has been prejudiced or otherwise shown that his presence or any testimony he may have given at a hearing would have altered the ALJ's decision.*fn6

Young also argues that the ALJ erred by finding his that his subjective complaints of pain ...


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