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Arroyo v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

July 25, 2014

ANGEL A. ARROYO, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

OPINION

KEVIN McNULTY, District Judge.

Angel A. Arroyo brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 5 U.S.C. § 706 to review a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security that denied her applications for Title II disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and for Title XVI Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under the provisions of 42 U.S.C. §§ 423 and 1382. Compl. (Docket No. 1, "Compl."). These applications of October 8, 2010 (DBI) and February 25, 2011 (SSI) alleged that Arroyo was disabled beginning July 12, 2010, because of "[s]evere lumbar disc disease and residuals from lumbar fusion and laminectomy and depression." Docket No. 1 ("Compl.") ¶ 5.

For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, Angel A. Arroyo, filed his Complaint in this Court on March 15, 2013. He was thirty-nine years of age at the time of filing. He has received a limited education and has prior work experience as a warehouse laborer, shipping and receiving clerk, and sprinkler installer. He alleges that he has been disabled since July 12, 2010, because of medical impairments, which he describes as "[s]evere lumbar disc disease and residuals from lumbar fusion and laminectomy and depression." Compl. ¶¶ 6, 7.

Following a workplace injury, Arroyo had minimally invasive back surgery in August 2005. He continued to have lower back pain and, as a result, in July 2010 he had a second, more invasive surgery that included a spinal fusion. A week after that surgery, he was diagnosed with a hematoma, which was drained. He has been to the emergency room several times for back pain. He alleges disability on account of persistent and debilitating pain as a result of his back problems.

The DBI claim submitted October 8, 2010 was initially denied on February 5, 2011 and on reconsideration on April 12, 2011. Record of Proceedings ("R ___")[1] (Docket No. 8) at 18. On October 28, 2011 Arroyo appeared for a hearing before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Dennis O'Leary and was represented by William J.L. Scherman during the hearing. R 18.

II. DISCUSSION

Arroyo's claims for DIB and SSI were denied by ALJ O'Leary.

To qualify for Title II DIB benefits, a claimant must meet the insured status requirements of 42 U.S.C. Section 423(c). To be eligible for SSI benefits, a claimant must meet the income and resource limitations of 42 U.S.C. Section 1382. To qualify under either statute, a claimant must show that she is unable to engage in substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment that can be expected to result in death or that has lasted (or can be expected to last) for a continuous period of not less than twelve months. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 1382c(a)(3)(A).

On appeal to this Court, Arroyo submits that the Commissioner's decision is not supported by substantial evidence. Docket No. 12 ("PI. Br.") at 2. Specifically, he raises two claims of error: (1) the residual functional capacity ("RFT") assessment for the full range of sedentary work was not based on substantial evidence and (2) the medical evidence justifies reversal and the award of benefits.

A. Standard of Review

As to legal issues, this Court's review is plenary. See Schaudeck v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec, 181 F.3d 429, 431 (3d Cir. 1999). As to the factual findings of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), however, this Court is directed "only to determine whether the administrative record contains substantial evidence supporting the findings." Sykes v. Apfel, 228 F.3d 259, 262 (3d Cir. 2000). Substantial evidence is "less than a preponderance of the evidence but more than a mere scintilla." Jones v. Barnhart, 364 F.3d 501, 503 (3d Cir. 2004) (citation omitted). "It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id .; accord Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971).

[I]n evaluating whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's findings... leniency should be shown in establishing the claimant's disability, and... the Secretary's responsibility to rebut it should be strictly construed. Due regard for the beneficent purposes of the legislation requires that a more tolerant standard be used in this administrative proceeding than is applicable in a typical suit in a court of record where the adversary system prevails.

Reefer v. Barnhart, 326 F.3d 376, 379 (3d Cir. 2003) (internal citations and quotations omitted). When there is substantial evidence to support the ALJ's factual findings, this Court must abide by them. See Jones, 364 F.3d at 503 (citing 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)).

After review of ALJ O'Leary's analysis, pursuant to the five-step legal framework, I find that the ALJ's opinion is supported by substantial evidence. Accordingly, I will affirm his opinion of November 10, 2011.

B. The ALJ's Decision

After performing the sequential five-step analysis, the Administrative Law Judge Dennis O'Leary denied Arroyo's claim of benefits on November 11, 2011. The ALJ found that Arroyo could perform the full range of sedentary work and was not disabled. The Appeals Council affirmed the ALJ's denial on January 18, 2013. Arroyo now submits that ALJ O'Leary's denial was in error and that the decision is not supported by substantial evidence. The Commissioner of ...


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