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Robert D. Thompson v. Michael J. Astrue

October 18, 2012

ROBERT D. THOMPSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY , DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

Plaintiff Robert D. Thompson requests review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Michael J. Astrue ("Commissioner"), which was partially favorable to Plaintiff. Specifically, Plaintiff moves for reversal of the Commissioner's decision that, under the Social Security Act, Plaintiff did not qualify to receive disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental security income ("SSI") from his alleged disability onset date, on July 23, 2007, through his fiftieth birthday on January 21, 2009. *fn1 The Commissioner determined that Plaintiff qualified for benefits after reaching age 50. For the reasons that follow, and after careful review of the entire record, the parties' submissions, and the applicable law, the Court will affirm the final decision of the Commissioner.

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff, who was born on January 21, 1959, filed his applications for DIB *fn2 and SSI on July 23, 2007, when he was 48-years-old. *fn3 He claimed his ability to work is impaired by degenerative disk disease, knee injury, and deep vein thrombosis (DVT). *fn4

After Plaintiff's applications for benefits were denied at the initial-review level on February 20, 2008, Plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). *fn5 ALJ Janice C. Volkman held a hearing on March 11, 2009. *fn6 On April 27, 2009, the ALJ ruled that Plaintiff was not disabled prior to January 21, 2009, when he was still a "younger individual," but determined that he was disabled after turning 50 years old on January 21, 2009, when he became a person "closely approaching advanced age." *fn7 The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on October 23, 2009. *fn8 Plaintiff filed an appeal in this Court on December 21, 2009.
This Court referred the matter to Magistrate Judge Lynne A. Sitarski for a Report and Recommendation ("R & R"). *fn9 In the R & R submitted on May 16, 2011, Magistrate Judge Sitarski recommended that the Court affirm the final decision of the Commissioner. Plaintiff timely objected to the R & R, and the matter is now ready for decision.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

A court reviewing a Social Security case must base its decision on the record of the administrative proceedings and the pleadings of the parties. *fn10 The court's review of legal issues is plenary, but its factual review is limited. *fn11 The court must determine whether the record contains substantial evidence to support the ALJ's factual findings, and whether the Commissioner applied the proper legal standards in making its decision. *fn12 For these purposes, "substantial evidence" means "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." *fn13 It is more than a mere scintilla, but requires less than a preponderance of the evidence. *fn14 If the ALJ's factual findings were determined according to the correct legal standards and are supported by substantial evidence, the court is bound by them, "even if [it] would have decided the factual inquiry differently." *fn15

Where, as here, a Social Security appeal is referred to a magistrate judge for an R & R, the district court must review de novo those portions of a magistrate judge's report and recommendation to which a party has objected. *fn16

A court may in its discretion "accept, reject or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge." *fn17

III. DISCUSSION

A. Social Security Law

To qualify for SSI or DIB benefits, a person must be found to have a "disability." Under the relevant provisions of the Social Security Act, disability is defined 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 continuous period of not less than 12 months." *fn18 An ALJ reviewing an application for disability benefits must employ the five-step process established in the Social Security Regulations ("the Regulations") to determine whether a disability exists. *fn19

At step one, the ALJ must determine whether the applicant is engaged in "substantial gainful activity;" if she is, the claim is denied. If the applicant is not engaged in substantial gainful activity, the ALJ must determine at step two whether the applicant suffers from a severe, medically determinable impairment which significantly limits her ability to work. If the applicant has such an impairment, the ALJ must determine at step three whether the impairment found meets the criteria for any of the impairments conclusively presumed to be disabilities, which are listed in Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 ("the Listings"), *fn20 or has an equivalently debilitating medical condition. If an applicant's disability does meet or equal a listing, he or she is found disabled without further analysis. If the applicant has a severe impairment that does not meet or equal an impairment in the Listings, the ALJ must determine at step four whether the applicant has the Residual Functioning Capacity ("RFC") to perform her former relevant work. A claimant's RFC is defined as the most an individual can still do in the workplace despite the physical and mental limitations caused by her impairments. *fn21 If an applicant has the RFC to perform former relevant work, he or she is found not disabled at step four. If the applicant does not have the RFC to perform her previous work, the ...

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