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West v. Barnhart

June 25, 2008

KATHY E. WEST, 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 Kathy West ("West" or "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 her application for Disability Insurance Benefits. Specifically, West alleges that the decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") James Garrett was erroneous because it was not supported by substantial evidence in the record and contained errors of law.

The Commissioner moves for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, on the grounds that the ALJ's decision was supported by substantial evidence and made in accordance with applicable law. Plaintiff opposes the Commissioner's motion and cross-moves for judgment on the pleadings, or in the alternative for the case to be remanded.

For the reasons set forth below, I hereby deny defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings, grant plaintiff's cross-motion for judgment on the pleadings, and remand this claim to the Commissioner for further proceedings consistent with this decision.

BACKGROUND

On March 12, 2004, plaintiff Kathy West, at the time a 48 year old former kitchen supervisor, bus driver, recreation aide and residential manager, applied for Social Security disability benefits claiming that she had become unable to work as of October 1, 2002 because of asthma, high blood pressure, anxiety, fibrous breasts, and back pain (Tr. 54-56). West's application was initially denied (Tr. 34-38). She then filed a request for a hearing, and on September 30, 2005, a hearing was held before ALJ James Garrett (Tr. 230-44). On December 17, 2005, the ALJ found that the plaintiff was not disabled (Tr. 10-20). The Appeals Council denied review (Tr. 3-5). This action followed.

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, the section 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).

The Commissioner asserts that her decision is supported by substantial evidence in the record, 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). 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. 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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