United States District Court, D. Columbia
RONALD C. FOSTER, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Defendant
C. FOSTER, Plaintiff, Pro se, Washington, DC.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Social Security Administration, Defendant:
Alexander Lee Cristaudo, Maija Pelly DiDomenico, LEAD
ATTORNEYS, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Philadelphia, PA.
BATES, United States District Judge.
brings this action under section 205(g) of the Social
Security Act, see 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), for
review of the denial of his application for supplemental
security income benefits. This matter is before the Court on
plaintiff's Motion for Judgment of Reversal [ECF No. 23]
and defendant's Motion for Judgment of Affirmance [ECF
No. 24]. For the reasons discussed below, the Court will deny
the former and grant the latter.
applied for supplemental security income benefits ("
SSI" ) on the basis of a disability beginning on April
4, 2011. Administrative Record ("
A.R." ) 10. The application was denied on June 6, 2011,
see A.R. 68-75, and plaintiff's request for
reconsideration was later denied as well, see A.R.
78-85. Plaintiff requested a hearing
before an Administrative Law Judge (" ALJ" ),
see A.R. 102-04, and the hearing took place on
October 3, 2012, see A.R. 23-52, 114-18. After the
hearing and " careful consideration of all the
evidence," the ALJ determined that plaintiff " is
under a disability, but that a substance use disorder is a
contributing factor material to the determination of
disability." A.R. 11. For this reason, the ALJ found
that plaintiff was not " disabled under the Social
Security Act at any time from the date the application was
filed through the date of [his] decision." Id.
The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review
of the ALJ's decision, see A.R. 1-3, and the
ALJ's decision therefore became the final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security (" SSA" ), A.R. 1.
Court's review of the SSA's final decision " is
statutorily confined to determining whether the . . .
decision . . . is supported by substantial evidence in the
record." Brown v. Bowen, 794 F.2d 703, 705, 253
U.S.App.D.C. 409 (D.C. Cir. 1986); see 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). Substantial evidence is " more than a
mere scintilla [and] means such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S.
389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971) (quoting
Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229,
59 S.Ct. 206, 83 L.Ed. 126 (1938)) (internal quotation marks
omitted). " Substantial-evidence review is highly
deferential to the agency fact-finder," Rossello ex
rel. Rossello v. Astrue, 529 F.3d 1181, 1185, 381
U.S.App.D.C. 477 (D.C. Cir. 2008), and the Court will uphold
the SSA's determination as long as " it is based on
substantial evidence in the record and correctly applies the
relevant legal standards," Butler v. Barnhart,
353 F.3d 992, 999, 359 U.S.App.D.C. 267 (D.C. Cir. 2004)
individual is disabled for SSI purposes " if he is
unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity by
reason of any medically determinable physical or mental
impairment . . . which has lasted or can be expected to last
for a continuous period of not less than twelve months."
42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). An individual is "
determined to be under a disability only if his physical or
mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he
is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot,
considering his age, education, and work experience, engage
in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in
the national economy, regardless of whether such work exists
in the immediate area in which he lives, or whether a
specific job vacancy exists for him, or whether he would be
hired if he applied for work." Id. §
1382c(a)(3)(B). The individual must prove that he is disabled
by providing medical and other evidence that the SSA can use
to reach conclusions about his alleged impairments.
See 20 C.F.R. § 416.912(a). Evidence may
include medical reports, laboratory test results, and the
claimant's own statements about his impairments. See
id. § § 416.912(b), 416.913. If an
individual's " drug addiction would . . . be a
contributing factor material to the [SSA's] determination
that the individual is disabled," the individual "
shall not be considered to be disabled" for purposes of
SSI. 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(J).
employs a " sequential evaluation process . . of five
'steps,'" 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4), to
determine whether an adult claimant who has applied for SSI
is disabled, id. § 416.920(a)(2). The Court,
which is authorized " to enter, upon the pleadings and
transcript of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or
reversing the decision of the [SSA], with or without
remanding the cause for a rehearing," 42 U.S.C. §
405(g), reviews the ALJ's determination that plaintiff is
not disabled. " The findings of the [SSA] as to any
supported by substantial evidence, shall be
One, the SSA considers the claimant's work activity.
See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(i). A claimant
who is working and whose work is substantial gainful activity
is " not disabled regardless of [his] medical condition,
. . . age, education, and work experience." Id.
§ 416.920(b); see id. § 416.920(a)(4)(i).
" Substantial work activity . . . involves doing
significant physical or mental activities." Id.
§ 416.972(a). " Gainful work activity is work
activity that [a claimant does] for pay or profit," and
" [w]ork activity is gainful if it is the kind of work
activity usually done for pay or profit, whether or not
profit is realized." Id. § 416.972(b).
found that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful
work activity since his application date, April 4, 2011. A.R.
12; see A.R. 26, 28.
Two, the SSA considers the medical severity of a
claimant's impairments. See 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(a)(4)(ii). A claimant without an " impairment or
combination of impairments which significantly limits [his]
physical or mental ability to do basic work activities . . .
do[es] not have a severe impairment and [is], therefore, not
disabled," regardless of the claimant's age,
education, and work experience. Id. §
416.920(c); see id. § 416.920(a)(4)(ii). An
impairment is severe if " it . . . significantly limit[s
a claimant's] physical or mental ability to do basic work
activities," id. § 416.921(a), such as