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HART v. MASSANARI

November 8, 2001

GINGER HART O/B/O GINGER E. HART, PLAINTIFF, VS. LARRY G. MASSANARI, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Charles J. Siragusa, United States District Judge.

DECISION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff brought this action on behalf of her minor daughter pursuant to 42 U.S. Code § 405(g) to review the final determination of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") who denied plaintiff's application for disability benefits. Before the Court is the Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings (docket # 8) seeking an order affirming the Commissioner's denial of benefits, and plaintiff's cross-motion for judgment on the pleadings (docket # 10) seeking an order reversing the Commissioner's decision and remanding for calculation of benefits. For the reasons stated below, the Court denies the Commissioner's motion and grants plaintiff's motion.

II. BACKGROUND

Ginger E. Hart ("Ginger") was born on February 24, 1984, making her 17 years old now.

Plaintiff claims her daughter is disabled and entitled to benefits under section 1602 of the Social Security Act, Supplemental Security Income for the Aged, Blind, and Disabled (codified at 42 U.S. Code § 1381a). Plaintiff protectively filed an application for supplemental security income on October 6, 1996. The application was denied initially and on reconsideration. Plaintiff filed a request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") and the hearing was held on April 6, 1998. On April 20, 1998, the ALJ found Ginger was not eligible for supplemental security income.

That decision became the Commissioner's final decision when the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review on May 19, 2000. Plaintiff commenced a civil action in this court on July 13, 2000. Oral argument on plaintiff's and defendant's motions for judgment on the pleadings was held before the Court on October 18, 2001. In considering the Commissioner's and plaintiff's motions for judgment on the pleadings, the Court has carefully considered the pleadings, the entire administrative record, and the comments of counsel made during oral argument.

III. DISCUSSION

A. THE STANDARD OF REVIEW

The issue to be determined by this Court is whether the Commissioner's conclusions "are supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole or are based on an erroneous legal standard." Schaal v. Apfel, 134 F.3d 496, 501 (2d Cir. 1998). It is well settled that

it is not the function of a reviewing court to determine de novo whether the claimant is disabled. Assuming the Secretary [Commissioner] has applied proper legal principles, judicial review is limited to an assessment of whether the findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence; if they are supported by such evidence, they are conclusive.

Parker v. Harris, 626 F.2d 225, 231 (2d Cir. 1980). Substantial evidence is defined as "more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id. at 231-32. Where there are gaps in the administrative record or where the Commissioner has applied an incorrect legal standard, remand for further development of the record may be appropriate. Id. at 235. However, where the record provides persuasive proof of disability and a remand would serve no useful purpose, the Court may reverse and remand for calculation and payment of benefits. Id.

B. THE STANDARD FOR DETERMINING DISABILITY FOR A CHILD

The Social Security Act's Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") program is a federal program designed to meet the needs of needy aged, blind, or disabled individuals who meet certain statutory income and resource limitations. See 42 U.S. Code ยง 1381. In 1996 Congress passed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act which established new standards ...


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