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Kelly v. Barnhart

March 28, 2008


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



Plaintiff, Edward A. Kelly ("Kelly" or "plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to the Social Security Act, codified at 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), seeking review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB").

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


On January 13, 2004 plaintiff Edward A. Kelly, a thirty-nine year old with an Associates Degree in Liberal Arts/General Sciences filed an application for disability insurance benefits claiming that he had become unable to work as a salesman as of April 15, 2002 because of manic depressive disorder, auditory hallucinations, bipolar disorder, and anxiety attacks. (Tr. 77-80, 132). The application was denied initially and on reconsideration by the State Disability Determination Service on March 18, 2004. (Tr. 24). Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing which was held on June 27, 2006, at which hearing plaintiff was represented by an attorney. (Tr. 492-510).

On July 25, 2006 the ALJ determined based on the hearing and the evidence in the record that plaintiff did not suffer from a disability under the Social Security Act. A disability is defined by 42 U.S.C. § 423(d) as the "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months."

42 U.S.C. § 423(d) (1991). The ALJ determined that plaintiff was not engaged in substantial gainful activity; that plaintiff had bipolar disorder, anxiety and drug abuse and alcoholism which are severe impairments; that plaintiff's conditions met Section 12.09 in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1; that if the plaintiff stopped his substance abuse, he still would not have the capacity to perform his past relevant work; that even if plaintiff stopped his substance abuse he would not have an impairment or combination of impairments that would meet or equal any of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1; and that if the plaintiff stopped his substance abuse that he would have the residual functional capacity to perform work at all exertional levels and would be capable of performing work that required the attention and concentration to do simple tasks. (Tr. 26-30). On November 19, 2005 Kelly's appeal of the ALJ's decision to the Appeals Council was denied, and on the plaintiff filed this action. (Tr. 6-9).


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 Disability Insurance Benefits. That section also 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." 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 are supported by substantial evidence. See, Mongeur v. Heckler, 722 F.2d 1033, 1038 (2nd 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.

"Though [the court] must credit an ALJ's findings if supported by substantial evidence, we retain a responsibility to conduct a searching inquiry and to scrutinize the entire record, having in mind that the Social Security remedial in purpose." citing McBrayer v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 712 F.2d 795, 798-99 (2nd Cir. 1983); Dousewicz v. Harris, 646 F.2d 771, 773 (2nd Cir. 1981). Defendant asserts that the decision was reasonable and 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 contents of the pleadings. Sellers v. M.C. Floor Crafters, Inc., 842 F.2d 639 (2nd 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 [his] claim which would entitle [him] to relief," judgment on the pleadings may be appropriate. See, Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957). Because the court determines that the findings of the Commissioner are supported by substantial evidence judgment on the pleadings is hereby granted for the defendant.

II. Medical History

On May 8, 2002 Kelly was admitted to Park Ridge Chemical Dependency for substance abuse. (Tr. 422). JoAnn Hoefler, R.N. noted that the plaintiff was discharged "incomplete" on May 15, 2002. Id.

On June 4, 2002 the plaintiff underwent a CT scan of his head to evaluate if there was any internal bleeding. (Tr. 418). Brianna Taing, M.D. noted that the results of the CT scan were normal. Id. The plaintiff was seen in St. Mary's Hospital Inpatient Psychiatric Unit on June 5, 2002 for suicidal ideation. (Tr. 419). Kelly reported that he has had a chemical dependency problem since he was 22 years old and that he drank alcohol and smoked cocaine. The plaintiff stated that his depression had been ongoing for 3-4 years. Id.

From November 18-26, 2002 the plaintiff received inpatient treatment at the John L. Norris Addiction Treatment Center. (Tr. 345-63, 191-93). Kelly stated that he had a 25 year history of drug and alcohol related problems. (Tr. 361). The plaintiff stated that he has had 20-30 previous treatment attempts. (Tr. 362) and had previously undergone treatment at Main Quest Detox in 2001, Strong MICA in 2001, Teen Challenge Residential in 2001, and Park Ridge Chemical Dependence, at which he remained for only three days. (Tr. 361). In the Psychological Assessment the plaintiff stated that he was unable to remain sober and that he usually used $200 worth ...

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