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Morici v. Astrue

March 10, 2008

KIM P. MORICI A.K.A. KIM P. ROBINSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael A. Telesca United States District Judge

DECISION AND ORDER

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Kim P. Morici ("Plaintiff and/or "Morici") brings this action pursuant to the Social Security Act (codified in relevant parts at 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3)), claiming that the Commissioner of Social Security improperly denied her application for disability benefits and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). Specifically, Morici alleges that the decision of an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") was erroneous and not supported by either the substantial evidence in the record or the applicable law. Plaintiff requests that the Court reverse the judgment of the Commissioner and find her entitled to SSI and disability insurance payments.

The Defendant moves for judgment on the pleadings on grounds that the ALJ's decision was correct, was supported by substantial evidence, and was made in accordance with applicable law. The Plaintiff has moved for summary judgment on her behalf. For the reasons discussed below, the Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings is granted and the Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment is denied.

BACKGROUND

On May 10, 2002, Plaintiff Kim P. Morici applied for Social Security Disability and SSI benefits, claiming that she became disabled on September 1, 2001 (Tr. 53). Her application was denied on October 11, 2002 (Tr. 39). She timely filed a request for an administrative hearing, which was held before ALJ Judith Showalter, and in a decision dated January 24, 2005, the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act (Tr. 17-30). Plaintiff then filed for review of the ALJ's decision by the Social Security Appeals Council (Tr. 9-10). That request was denied by the Council on April 16, 2005 (Tr. 5-8). Plaintiff subsequently filed this action.

DISCUSSION

I. Jurisdiction and Scope of Review

42 U.S.C. § 405(g) grants jurisdiction to district courts to hear claims based on the denial of Social Security benefits. Additionally, the section directs that when considering such a claim, the court must accept the findings of fact made by the Commissioner, provided that such findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record. Substantial evidence is defined as "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." See Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938). Section 405(g) thus limits the court's scope of review to determining whether or not the Commissioner's findings were supported by substantial evidence. See Mongeur v. Heckler, 722 F.2d 1033, 1038 (2d Cir. 1983) (finding that the reviewing court does not try a benefits case de novo). The court is also authorized to review the legal standards employed by the Commissioner in evaluating the Plaintiff's claim.

The court must "scrutinize the record in its entirety to determine the reasonableness of the decision reached." See Lynn v. Schweiker, 565 F.Supp 265, 267 (S.D. Tex 1983) (citation omitted). The Commissioner asserts that his decision is supported by the evidence in the record, and moves for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Under Rule 12(c), judgment on the pleadings may be granted where the material facts are undisputed and where judgment on the merits is possible merely by considering the evidence of the pleadings. See Sellers v. M.C. Floor Crafters, Inc., 842 F.2d 639 (2d Cir. 1988). If, after a review of the pleadings, the court is convinced that "the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of [her] claim which would entitle [her] to relief," judgment on the pleadings may be appropriate. See Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957).

II. The Findings of the ALJ Were Supported by Substantial Evidence and Proper as a Matter of Law

Plaintiff argues that the decision of the ALJ was not supported by substantial evidence. Specifically, Plaintiff claims that the ALJ improperly failed to give an opinion of a treating physician controlling weight and that the ALJ improperly failed to consider certain conditions of the Plaintiff's Residual Functional Capacity ("RFC") when examining the Vocational Expert ("VE"). I find that the ALJ gave proper weight to the evidence in the record and that her decision was supported by substantial evidence.

A. The ALJ Was Not Required to Give Controlling Weight to a Medical Source's Opinion that the Plaintiff Met Listing 12.02(c)

In order to be granted controlling weight, opinions from treating sources must "reflect judgments about the nature and severity of [claimant's] impairment(s)." See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404. 1527(a)(2). Opinions from a medical source that a person meets the requirements of any impairment in the Listed Impairments in Appendix 1 of Subpart P of Part 404 of the Regulations "are not medical opinions, as described in paragraph (a)(2) of this section, but are, instead, opinions on issues reserved to the Commissioner because they are administrative findings that are dispositive of a case." See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(e). Statements by a treating physician that a claimant meets a Listed Impairment will be considered, however, "the final responsibility for deciding these issues is reserved to the Commissioner." See 20 C.F.R. § 404. 1527(e)(2). Furthermore, "[t]reating source opinions on issues that ...


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