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Christopher Astorino v. Michael J. Astrue

August 10, 2012

CHRISTOPHER ASTORINO, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER OF COURT (date) , 2012

I. Introduction

Plaintiff, Christopher Astorino ("Plaintiff"), brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), for judicial review of the final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") which denied his application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act ("Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433.

II. Background

A. Facts

Plaintiff was born on September 10, 1965, and was 45 years old at the time of the decision of the Administrative Law Judge. Plaintiff has a college degree and a law degree. He has past relevant work experience as an attorney and as a music teacher. The vocational expert testified that Plaintiff's past job as an attorney was sedentary, skilled work; and his past job as a music teacher is typically light, skilled work, but was considered sedentary, skilled work as he actually performed it. (R. at 74).

Plaintiff alleges disability as of December 30, 2008, due to multiple sclerosis ("MS"). The record reflects that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful work activity since December 30, 2008, his alleged onset date.*fn1

B. Procedural History

Plaintiff initially filed his instant application*fn2 for DIB on May 1, 2009, in which he claimed total disability since December 30, 2008. Plaintiff's application was denied initially on August 6, 2009. The Plaintiff filed a written request for hearing on August 6, 2009. An administrative hearing was held on September 7, 2010 before Administrative Law Judge Guy Koster ("ALJ"). Plaintiff was represented by Barbara S. Manna, a non-attorney representative, and testified at the hearing. Charles M. Cohen, Ph.D., an impartial vocational expert, also testified at the hearing.

On September 30, 2010, the ALJ rendered an unfavorable decision to Plaintiff in which he found that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act from December 30, 2008 through September 30, 2010, the date of the decision. Furthermore, the ALJ found that Plaintiff retained the residual functioning capacity to perform light work with a sit/stand option that does not require climbing ropes, ladders, scaffolds, exposure to hazards, extensive handwriting, or acute vision tasks.

The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner on December 9, 2011, when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request to review the decision of the ALJ.

On February 10, 2012, Plaintiff filed his Complaint in this Court in which he seeks judicial review of the decision of the ALJ. The parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment. Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to properly evaluate the medical opinion evidence of Thomas F. Scott, M.D. ("Dr. Scott"), Plaintiff's treating physician.

Specifically, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in: a) failing to properly evaluate the opinions of Dr. Scott pursuant to 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(d); and b) providing more weight to the opinions of a non-examining physician than to the opinions of Dr. Scott. The Commissioner contends that substantial evidence supports the ALJ's finding that Plaintiff is not disabled; and that substantial evidence supports the ALJ's finding that Plaintiff could perform the light work the VE identified. The Court agrees with the Commissioner and will therefore grant the motion for summary judgment filed by the Commissioner and deny the motion for summary judgment filed by Plaintiff.

III. Legal Analysis

A. Standard of Review

The Act limits judicial review of disability claims to the Commissioner's final decision. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). If the Commissioner's finding is supported by substantial evidence, it is conclusive and must be affirmed by the Court. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Rutherford v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d 546, 552 (3d Cir. 2005). The Supreme Court has defined "substantial evidence" as "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389 (1971); Hartranft v. Apfel, 181 F.3d 358, 360 (3d Cir. 1999). It consists of more than a scintilla of evidence, but less than a preponderance. Thomas v. Commissioner of Social Security, 625 F.3d 798 (3d Cir. 2010).

When resolving the issue of whether an adult claimant is or is not disabled, the Commissioner utilizes a five-step sequential evaluation. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. This process requires the Commissioner to consider, in sequence, whether a claimant (1) is working, (2) has a severe impairment, (3) has an impairment that meets or equals the requirements of a listed impairment, (4) can return to his or her past relevant work, and (5) if not, whether he or she can perform other work. See 42 U.S.C. § 404.1520; Newell v. Commissioner of Social Security, 347 F.3d 541, 545-46 (3d Cir. 2003) (quoting Burnett v. Commissioner of Social Security, 220 F.3d 112, 118-19 (3d Cir. 2000)).

To qualify for disability benefits under the Act, a claimant must demonstrate that there is some "medically determinable basis for an impairment that prevents him or her from engaging in any substantial gainful activity for a statutory twelve-month period." Fargnoli v. Halter, 247 F.2d 34, 38-39 (3d Cir. 2001) ...


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