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Patrick Bolger v. Commissioner of Social Security

October 31, 2011

PATRICK BOLGER,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Magistrate Judge McHARGH

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This case is before the Magistrate Judge pursuant to the consent of the parties. (Doc. 13). The issue before the undersigned is whether the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the "Commissioner") denying Plaintiff Patrick Bolger's applications for a Period of Disability and Disability Insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i) and 423, and Supplemental Security Income benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1381 et seq., is supported by substantial evidence, and therefore, conclusive.

For the reasons set forth below, the Court AFFIRMS the decision of the Commissioner.

I. INTRODUCTION & PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On November 6, 2006, Patrick Bolger ("Plaintiff" or "Bolger") protectively filed applications for a Period of Disability and Disability Insurance benefits and Supplemental Security Income benefits alleging that he became disabled on October 27, 2006, due to suffering from two herniated discs in his back and bipolar disorder. (Tr. 90-99, 101-03, 120). Bolger's applications for benefits were denied initially and upon reconsideration. (Tr. 45-48). He timely requested and was granted an administrative hearing before Administrative Law Judge Peter Beekman (the "ALJ" or "ALJ Beekman"). (Tr. 76, 86).

On August 10, 2009, ALJ Beekman conducted a hearing wherein Plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and testified. (See Tr. 21-44). Vocational Expert, Barbara Burk (the "VE"), and Medical Expert, Dr. Joseph Steiner(the "ME") also appeared and testified. Id. On October 30, 2009, the ALJ issued a written decision denying Plaintiff's applications for benefits. (Tr. 8-20). In his review of Plaintiff's applications, ALJ Beekman applied the five-step sequential evaluation analysis,*fn1 and concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled. Id. Subsequently, Bolger requested review of the ALJ's decision from the Social Security Appeals Council. (Tr. 4). However, on June 10, 2010, the Appeals Council denied Bolger's request, thereby making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-3). Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of the ALJ's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c).

Plaintiff, born on June 24, 1959, was forty-seven years old on his alleged onset date, and considered as a "younger person" for Social Security purposes. (Tr. 19, 45); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1563(c), 416.963(c). During the course of the application appeal process, Plaintiff turned fifty years old. (See Tr. 24). He is now considered as a "person closely approaching advanced age." 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1563(d), 416.963(d). Bolger graduated from the twelfth grade and has prior experience working as a house repairer, performing painting and general home construction projects. (Tr. 24, 34). His date last insured for Disability Insurance benefits was June 30, 2008. (Tr. 114).

II. ALJ'S DECISION

After completing a review of the record, ALJ Beekman determined that Bolger was not disabled under the Social Security regulations. (Tr. 8-20). At step one of the sequential evaluation analysis, the ALJ found that Bolger had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset date of October 27, 2006. (Tr. 10). At step two, ALJ Beekman ruled that Plaintiff suffered from two severe impairments: bipolar disorder and degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine. Id. But, at step three, ALJ Beekman concluded that Plaintiff's severe impairments did not individually or in combination meet or equal one of the listed impairments set forth in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 10-12).

Before proceeding to step four, ALJ Beekman determined that Bolger had the following residual functional capacity ("RFC"):

[T]o perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) with restrictions. Specifically, Mr. Bolger can flit [sic] and carry up to 20 pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently. In an eight-hour day, Mr. Bolger can stand for four hours, walk for four hours, and sit for four hours, with the ability to alternate between sitting, standing, and walking at will. He cannot climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds. He can occasionally stoop, crouch, and climb stairs or ramps. He can frequently balance, kneel, and crawl. He cannot perform complex tasks, but is able to perform simple, routine tasks. He is limited to work with no production quotas.

He cannot perform work involving arbitration, confrontation or negotiation. He cannot perform work involving more than minimal interaction with the public. (Tr. 12). At step four, the ALJ ruled that Bolger could not return to his past relevant work because the exertional demands of that work exceeded his current RFC. (Tr. 18). Notwithstanding, at step five, ALJ Beekman held that Plaintiff could perform other jobs which existed in significant numbers in the national economy, such as that of a fast food worker, lunchroom attendant, or as a cashier or ticket seller. (Tr. 19-20).

III. DISABILITY STANDARD

A claimant is entitled to receive Disability Insurance and/or Supplemental Security Income benefits only when he establishes disability within the meaning of the Social Security Act. See 42 U.S.C. ยงยง 423, 1381. A claimant is considered disabled when he cannot perform "substantial gainful employment 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 ...


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