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Botsyura v. Astrue

January 15, 2009

GALINA BOTSYURA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gregory G. Hollows United States Magistrate Judge

ORDER

Introduction and Summary

Plaintiff, an SSI applicant, has already been awarded benefits on a separate application, dated September 24, 2002, due to a back condition. She seeks in this action to acquire a ruling finding her disabled prior to that date, beginning with the filing date of the instant application in November 2000.

Plaintiff's main claim centers about the condition of her back which is indisputably disabling at this time. She asserts that the ALJ lacked substantial evidence in picking the February 2002 onset date for her disabling back problems after the Appeals Council had initially sent the matter back to the ALJ for resolution of the correct onset date. Also raised are secondary claims:

1. Various physical and mental ailments, other than her back condition, should have been viewed as "severe impairments;"

2. Plaintiff's back condition should have been rated at listing severity;

3. The ALJs credibility analysis was wanting;

4. The ALJ's residual functional capacity findings lacked substantial evidence.

For the most part, plaintiff has failed in his recitation of secondary claims to relate them to the fact that plaintiff has already been awarded disability, Supplemental Security Income benefits. For example, the issue of the listing severity of plaintiff's back condition, or plaintiff's symptom credibility, or the residual capacity finding prior to the time of disability will be analyzed, if necessary, in terms of ascertaining the appropriate onset date of the disabling back condition. The court will not undertake an abstract discussion of these issues. In other words, to the extent that plaintiff's condition would equal a listing after February 2002, the point is irrelevant. Further, if plaintiff would be disabled with a sedentary residual functional capacity prior to February 2002, the listing issue is again irrelevant. The benefits awarded do not depend on the severity of the condition past 'disabled," i.e., there is no special bonus for being "very disabled." The only claim that potentially merits separate analysis is the unrelated-to-the-back condition claims of other severe impairments, but again, this asserted error must relate to a time period prior to February 2002.

For the reasons set forth herein, the court finds that the ALJ lacked substantial evidence in the record in choosing the February 2002 date, in that the record, especially the treating physician record and objective tests, convincingly demonstrates that the onset of disability occurred no later than February 2001. There is insufficient evidence for any asserted impairment to set the date any earlier.

The ALJ Findings

The ALJ found in his decision on remand (quoted verbatim except for bracketed material):

1. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 21, 2000 [her approximate date of entry to the United States].

2. The medical evidence establishes that the claimant has severe degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, but that she does not have an impairment or combination of ...


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