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Rios v. Astrue

September 30, 2010

MANUEL RIOS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM RE: SOCIAL SECURITY APPEAL

Plaintiff, Manuel Rios, seeks judicial review of the decision by the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the "Commissioner") denying his application for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits ("SSDI") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act ("the Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-83(c) (2000). Jurisdiction is established under § 1383(c)(3), which incorporates § 405(g) of the Act. 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). After careful and independent consideration of the matter, and for the following reasons, the Court will affirm the decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), deny Rios's request for benefits or a new hearing, and dismiss the complaint.

I. Background and Procedural History

Rios applied for social security and disability benefits on May 1, 2007. (R.119-133) He was born on June 1, 1957, and was forty--seven years, 11 months, on May 1, 2005, the onset date of his alleged impairment. (R.19.) Rios has completed schooling through the ninth grade, speaks and reads Spanish, and has limited reading and writing facility in English. (R.23). His relevant work experience is as a truck driver. (R.23 and 147.) Rios alleges disability due to major depressive disorder, anxiety, and shoulder injury, specifically a chronic acromioclavicular separation of the right shoulder with coracoclavicular ligament calcification/ossification. (R146, 188, 290, 372.) The Social Security Administration denied Rios's application on December 23, 2005.

(R.51-60.), and Rios timely filed a request for a hearing by an ALJ. (R.61-69.) ALJ Christine McCafferty held a hearing on February 18, 2009. (R.26-47).

At the hearing, Rios testified that he has not worked since 2005 because he does not "feel good." (R.32.) Rios described his illness as causing an inability to concentrate and a lack of desire to engage in any activities. (R.32-34.) He related that he had been once hospitalized because of suicidal feelings, but could not recall when that occurred. (R.33.) He stated that he rarely leaves the home he shares with his sister, and, instead, remains inside all day and watching television. (R.36.) He does not do any chores in the home because he does not feel like doing anything, although he once helped much more in his former home in Connecticut. (R.36-39.) He informed the ALJ that a friend helped him take public transportation to the hearing because Rios was "scared" to take the train alone. (R.32.) A vocational expert testified, as well. (R45-46.).

The ALJ denied Rios's claim in a written decision of March 3, 2009, holding that Rios is not disabled under the Act. (R.11-25). The ALJ found that Rios "meets the insured status requirements" of the Act, and "has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since May 1, 2005, the alleged onset date." (R.19) The ALJ then determined Rios to suffer from "an affective depressive disorder," which the ALJ concluded to be a severe impairment that "causes significant limitation in [Rios's] ability to perform basic work activities." (R.19). However, the ALJ determined Rios's impairment not to meet or medically equal "one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1." (R.20.) While the ALJ found Rios's impairment to meet "some of the criteria of part 'A' of Listing 12.05 [Affective Disorders,]" the ALJ concluded Rios could not establish "the functional limitations required by part 'B' of the listing [or] the criteria required by part 'C' of the listing." (R.20.)

The ALJ defined Rios to be a "younger individual," based on Rios's age at the alleged disability onset date, see 20 C.F.R. § 404.1563, and to have limited education, but found "[t]ransferability of skill" to be immaterial to the determination of disability. (R.23.) The ALJ further determined Rios to have the "residual functional capacity to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels." (R.22.) The ALJ did recognize that Rios's symptoms related to depression limited his "nonextertional" capacity to perform "simple, routine tasks with only occasional changes in work settings and moderate limitations in concentration, persistence or pace." (R.21-22.)*fn1 However, the ALJ declined to credit Rios's allegations as to the "severity of his impairments and their impact on his ability to work" beyond the expressed non-exertional limitations. (R.23.) The ALJ did recognize that Rios "alleged having a shoulder separation and visual difficulties," but noted that Rios's attorney "did not allege any physical work preclusive limitations" and that Rios has not sought ongoing treatment for either condition. (R.20.)

The ALJ agreed with the testimony of the vocational expert that Rios's medically determinable impairment precluded Rios from returning to his "past relevant work" as a truck driver.(R.23.) However, with consideration given to Rios's "age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity," the ALJ determined Rios to be "capable of making a successful adjustment to other work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy." (R.24.) The ALJ concluded "a finding of 'not disabled' [to be] therefore appropriate" for Rios. (R24.)

Rios timely requested, but was denied, review by the Appeals Council, making the ALJ's decision final on August 26, 2009. (R.1-6.)On November 3, 2009, Rios filed this action requesting review of the denial by the ALJ of Rios's disability benefits.

II. Parties' Contentions

A. Rios's Objections

Rios contends that the ALJ neglected to "mention or adequately discuss" (1) Rios's medical records from Northeast Community Mental Health Center and (2) relevant evidence of Rios's shoulder injury. (Pl's Br. 4.) Rios argues both omissions to be reversible error. (Pl's Br. 4.) Rios next contends that the ALJ neglected to properly credit Rios's testimony, particularly regarding his "lack of interest in all activities," which Rios avers is corroborated by his medical records. (Pl's Br. 6). Rios concludes that properly credited testimony, in combination with the medical evidence, would have supported a finding that Rios meet the requirements of Listing 12.04. Finally, Rios contends that the ALJ improperly applied the Medical Vocational Guidelines in her evaluation of his age and in the transferability of his skill, in light of his alleged shoulder injury. 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpart P, App.2.

B. The Commissioner's Response

The Commissioner responds that, while the ALJ may not have explicitly addressed the NCMHC records, Rios has not met his burden of showing harmful error. (Def.'s Resp. 11-12). The Commissioner contends that the ALJ's step three analysis as to the severity of Rios's impairment and her conclusion that Rios's depression and anxiety did not meet or equal the requirements of Listing 12.04 were explained sufficiently and adequately supported by substantial evidence. (Def.'s Resp. 4-9.) The Commissioner further responds that Rios provided no medical evidence to support his allegation of a totally debilitating mental impairment, in the face of medical assessments finding Rios to be only "moderately limited" and, thus, the ALJ's failure to credit Rios's allegation was proper. (Def.'s Resp. 10-11.) The Commissioner contends the ALJ's analysis regarding Rios's shoulder injury was similarly supported by substantial evidence, as Rios waived the issue in the hearing and medical evidence demonstrated Rios to have "full range of bilateral shoulder motion." (Def.'s Resp. 13). Finally, the Commissioner contends that the ALJ did not, in fact, apply the Medical Vocational Guidelines in determining Rios's capacity to work, but, instead, relied on the vocational expert's testimony in response to a properly worded hypothetical. (Def.'s Resp. 14).

III. 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

The Social Security Act provides for judicial review of any "final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security" in a disability proceeding. 42 U.S.C. ยง 405(g). The 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.Howeverthe Commissioner's findings "as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive." Id. (emphasis added). Accordingly, this Court's scope of review is "limited to determining whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal standards and whether the ...


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