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McGee v. Barnhart

June 5, 2008

DAVID R. MCGEE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JO ANNE B. BARNHART, 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 David R. McGee ("Plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to the Social Security Act § 216(I) and § 223, seeking review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"), denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits.*fn1 Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that the decision of Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Linda M. Bernstein denying his application for benefits was erroneous and not supported by substantial evidence contained in the record and was not supported by the applicable law.

Plaintiff seeks reversal of the Commissioner's ruling or, in the alternative, remand of the matter for a new hearing. The Commissioner moves for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c) ("Rule 12(c)"), on the grounds that ALJ Bernstein's decision was supported by substantial evidence contained in the record. Plaintiff opposes the Commissioner's motion and has requested appointment of counsel.

For the reasons set forth below, I deny Plaintiff's application for appointment of counsel. I further find that the decision of the Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence and is in accordance with applicable law, and, therefore, I grant the Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings.

BACKGROUND

On December 1, 2003, Plaintiff, who was then 31 years old, filed an application with the Social Security Administration for Disability Insurance Benefits. Plaintiff claimed an inability to work since January 3, 2002 (Tr. at 49), due to borderline intellectual functioning (see Tr. at 31), human immunodeficiency virus ("HIV"), neuropathy, and depression (Tr. at 110). Plaintiff's application was denied initially on February 23, 2004 (Tr. at 35-42). He then filed a timely request for a hearing before an ALJ (Tr. at 43). Although he was represented by counsel, Plaintiff did not appear at the administrative hearing before ALJ Bernstein on May 31, 2005 in Buffalo, NY because he was incarcerated at the time (Tr. at 29-33).

In a decision dated June 8, 2005, ALJ Bernstein found that although Plaintiff's HIV, thrombophlebitis, alcohol dependence (in remission), and borderline intellectual functioning were severe, the Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act (Tr. at 21-22). Plaintiff appealed that decision to the Social Security Appeals Council ("Appeals Council") on June 15, 2005 (Tr. at 397-98).

The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision on June 30, 2005 (Tr. at 4). On December 5, 2005, Plaintiff received an extension of time in which to file his Complaint. Attach. to Compl., Letter from Dorothy Roane, Social Security Administration, to David R. McGee of 12/05/05. Thereafter, on January 18, 2006, Plaintiff, appearing pro se, filed this action appealing the Commissioner's decision.

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. This section has been made applicable to Disability Insurance Benefits cases by § 42 U.S.C. 1383(c)(3). 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) directs that when considering such a claim, the district 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, 217 (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 Monqeur v. Heckler, 722 F.2d 1033, 1038 (2d Cir. 1983) (finding that a reviewing court does not try a benefits case de novo). The court also is 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." Lynn v. Schweiker, 565 F. Supp. 265, 267 (S.D. Tex. 1983) (citation omitted).

The Commissioner asserts that her decision was reasonable and is supported by the evidence in the record, and moves for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c). Judgment on the pleadings may be granted under Rule 12(c) 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 (2d Cir. 1988). If, after a review of the pleadings, the Court is convinced that 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).

II. The Commissioner's decision to deny Plaintiff benefits was supported by substantial evidence in the record

In finding that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act, the ALJ adhered to the Social Security Administration's five-step sequential evaluation analysis for evaluating applications for disability benefits. See 20 C.F.R. ยง 404.1520. Pursuant to the ...


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