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Joseph Gonzales v. Commissioner of Social Security

November 18, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kenneth S. McHargh United States Magistrate Judge



This case is before the Magistrate Judge pursuant to the consent of the parties. (Doc. 15). The issue before the undersigned is whether the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the "Commissioner") denying Plaintiff Joseph Gonzales's application for 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.


On September 1, 2006, Joseph Gonzales ("Plaintiff" or "Gonzales") protectively filed an application for Supplemental Security Income benefits alleging that he became disabled on April 10, 2006, due to suffering from multiple heart attacks. (Tr. 31, 103, 108). Plaintiff's application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. (Tr. 31-32). He timely requested and was granted an administrative hearing before Administrative Law Judge Denise McDuffie Martin (the "ALJ" or "ALJ McDuffie Martin"). (Tr. 51, 55-61).

On October 17, 2007, ALJ McDuffie Martin conducted a hearing via video wherein Plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and testified.*fn1 (See Tr. 6-30). Vocational expert, Ms. Grace Giaforte (the "VE"), and medical expert, Dr. John Cavenagh (the "ME") also testified at the hearing. Id. The ALJ presided over the hearing from Orland Park, Illinois. (Tr. 8). The ME and VE were also present in Orland Park, Illinois. Id. Plaintiff and his attorney appeared in Mansfield, Ohio. Id. On January 18, 2008, the ALJ issued a written decision denying Plaintiff's application for benefits. (Tr. 36-43). In her review of Plaintiff's application, ALJ McDuffie Martin applied the five-step sequential evaluation analysis,*fn2 and concluded that Gonzales was not disabled. Id. Following this ruling, Gonzales requested review of the ALJ's decision from the Appeals Council. (Tr. 83). But, on May 24, 2010, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request, thereby making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-4). Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of the ALJ's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3).

Plaintiff, born on July 28, 1968, was thirty-eight years old on his alleged onset date, which deemed him as a "younger person" for Social Security purposes. (Tr. 103); 20 C.F.R. § 416.963(c). Gonzales graduated from high school and has prior experience working as a concrete finisher. (Tr. 9-10).


After completing a review of the record, ALJ McDuffie Martin determined that Gonzales was not disabled under the Social Security regulations. (Tr. 36-43). At step one of the sequential evaluation analysis, the ALJ found that Gonzales had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since September 1, 2006. (Tr. 38). At step two, the ALJ ruled that Plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: "coronary artery disease, status/post multiple angioplasties with stenting, and [a] history of myocardial infarctions." Id. Yet, at step three, ALJ McDuffie Martin 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. Id. Before proceeding to step four, the ALJ announced that Gonzales retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform a limited range of sedentary work. (Tr. 39). Next, at step four, ALJ McDuffie Martin determined that Gonzales could not perform his past relevant work as a concrete finisher because the exertional demands of that job exceeded his current RFC. (Tr. 42). Nevertheless, at step five, the ALJ held that Plaintiff could perform other jobs which existed in significant numbers in the national economy. (Tr. 42-43). For example, ALJ McDuffie Martin commented that Plaintiff could work as an order clerk, clerical checker, clerical sorter, information clerk, phone order taker, security monitor, or cashier. (Tr. 43).


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. §§ 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 to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve (12) months." See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505, 416.905.


Judicial review of the Commissioner's benefits decision is limited to a determination of whether, based on the record as a whole, the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, and whether, in making that decision, the Commissioner employed the proper legal standards. See Cunningham v. Apfel, 12 F. App'x 361, 362 (6th Cir. 2001); Garner v. Heckler, 745 F.2d 383, 387 (6th Cir. 1984); Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). "Substantial evidence" has been defined as more than a scintilla of evidence but less than a preponderance of the evidence. See Kirk v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 667 F.2d 524, 535 (6th Cir. 1981). Thus, if the record evidence is of such a nature that a reasonable mind might accept it as adequate support for the Commissioner's final benefits determination, then that determination must be affirmed. Id. The Commissioner's determination must stand if supported by substantial evidence, regardless of whether this Court would resolve the issues of fact in dispute differently or substantial evidence also supports the opposite conclusion. See Mullen v. Bowen, 800 F.2d 535, 545 (6th Cir. 1986); Kinsella v. Schweiker, 708 F.2d 1058, 1059 (6th Cir. 1983). This Court may not try this case de novo, resolve conflicts ...

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