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Newland v. Barnhart

June 11, 2008

PATRICIA A. NEWLAND, 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 Patricia Newland ("Newland" or "Plaintiff"), brings this action pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act, claiming that the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner" or "Defendant") improperly denied her application for disability benefits. Specifically, Newland alleges that the decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") who heard her case was erroneous because he selectively applied the findings of the plaintiff's physicians to support his conclusion that Newland was not disabled. Additionally, Newland alleges that the ALJ failed to properly consider the combination of her impairments.

The Commissioner moves for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 405(g) and Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and the plaintiff seeks judgment on the pleadings or in the alternative, an order remanding this case for further administrative proceedings. The Commissioner claims that the ALJ's decision was supported by substantial evidence and was based upon the application of the correct legal standards, whereas the plaintiff claims the opposite. Because this court finds that the Commissioner's decision was not supported by substantial evidence, judgment on the pleadings is hereby granted for the plaintiff.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Patricia Newland applied to the Social Security Administration for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") on October 8, 2003, claiming that she became disabled on August 20, 2003 because of "Elbow injury/nerve damage; numbness; deg arthritis/depress[io]n" (Tr. 109). At the time of her application she was 50 years-old with a high school education, and had work experience as a furniture factory laborer and inspector, cashier and clerk. (Tr. 44, 110-11, 114, 346-47).

The Social Security Administration denied Newland's disability application initially and on reconsideration. (Tr. 32, 13-24). She then requested an administrative hearing, which was held before ALJ James Bukes on November 15, 2004. (Tr. 13). On February 25, 2005, the ALJ concluded that Newland was not disabled and thus ineligible to receive disability benefits. The ALJ concluded that although Newland was unable to perform her past work, she was able to perform other work which existed in significant numbers in the national economy. On June 9, 2005, the Social Security Appeals Council denied review of the ALJ's decision (Tr. 13-24, 5-8). Thereafter, plaintiff filed this action(Tr. 5-8).

DISCUSSION

I. JURISDICTION AND SCOPE OF REVIEW

Title 42, Section 405(g) of the United States Code grants jurisdiction to Federal District Courts to hear claims based on the denial of Social Security benefits. Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 320 (1976). Additionally, Section 405(g) directs that the District Court must accept the Commissioner's findings of fact if those findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record. See Bubnis v. Apfel, 150 F.3d 117, 181 (2d Cir. 1998); see also Williams v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., No. 06-2019-cv, 2007 U.S. App. LEXIS 9396, at *3 (2d Cir. Apr. 24, 2007). 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 were supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole, and whether the Commissioner's conclusions are based upon an erroneous legal standard. Green-Younger v. Barnhart, 335 F.3d 99, 105-06 (2d Cir. 2003); see also Wagner v. Secretary of Health & Human Serv., 906 F.2d 856, 860 (2d Cir. 1990) (holding that review of the Secretary's decision is not de novo and that the Secretary's findings are conclusive if supported by the substantial evidence).

Defendant asserts that her decision is both supported by substantial evidence in the record and based upon the application of the correct legal standards, and moves for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. 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).

In cases where the record contains persuasive proof of disability, and remand for further evidentiary proceedings would serve no further purpose, a District Court should order payment of Social Security disability benefits. See Carroll v. Secretary of Heath and Human Serv., 705 F.2d 638, 644 (2d Cir. 1981). The goal of this policy is "to shorten the often painfully slow process by which disability determinations are made." Id. Because this court finds that (1) the ALJ's decision was not supported by substantial evidence and (2) the record contains substantial evidence of disability such that further evidentiary proceedings would serve no further purpose, judgment on the pleadings is hereby granted for the plaintiff.

II. STANDARD FOR ENTITLEMENT TO SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFITS

Under the Social Security Act, a disability is defined 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)(1)(A) (concerning Old-Age, Survivors', and Disability Insurance ("OASDI")); 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A) (2004) (concerning SSI payments). An individual will only be considered "under a disability" if her impairment is so severe that she is both unable to do her ...


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