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King v. Barnhart

July 2, 2008

LAURA KING, 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 Laura King ("King" or "Plaintiff"), brings this action pursuant to the Social Security Act Sections 216(I) and 223, seeking review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"), denying her supplemental security income ("SSI") prior to February 15, 2003. Specifically, King alleges that the Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ") decision that plaintiff was not disabled prior to February 15, 2004 was not supported by substantial evidence.

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. Plaintiff opposes the Commissioner's motion and cross moves for judgment on the pleadings. The Court finds that the decision of the Commissioner for the reasons set forth below, is supported by substantial evidence and therefore the Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings is hereby granted.

BACKGROUND

On February 8, 1999, Plaintiff, at that time a 44 year-old home health aide, filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits, claiming a disability since July 7, 1998, due to a disk herniation in the lumbar spine, arthritic pain in the neck, shoulders, knees and elbows, diverticulitis, gastroesophageal reflux disease, sinus problems causing headaches and hypertension (Tr. 18-19). Plaintiff's application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, plaintiff then requested a hearing (Tr. 48-51, 54-57).

Thereafter, a hearing was conducted on May 18, 2000, before ALJ Timothy M. McGuan, (Tr. 311-42). In a decision dated July 28, 2000, the ALJ determined that the plaintiff was not disabled (Tr. 30-44). The Appeals Council vacated the ALJ's decision, and remanded the case directing the ALJ to give additional consideration to treating source opinions, obtain additional information regarding plaintiff's musculoskeletal and gastrointestinal disorders, evaluate her maximum residual functional capacity and obtain vocational evidence if warranted by the record (Tr. 79-82). Plaintiff appeared and testified at a June 21, 2005 hearing before ALJ McGuan (Tr. 349-79). On August 23, 2005 the ALJ issued a partially-favorable decision finding plaintiff disabled and eligible for SSI benefits as of her 50th birthday on February 15, 2004 (Tr. 15-27). The ALJ found that plaintiff was not entitled Disability Insurance Benefits because her insured status had expired before that time (Tr. 15-27). This became the Commissioner's final decision when the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review on November 17, 2005 (Tr. 9-11). 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 previous work and unable to engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work that exists in the national economy. §§ 423(d)(2)(A) and 1382c(a)(3)(B).

"Substantial gainful work" is defined as "work that exists in significant numbers either in the region where the individual lives or in several regions of the country." Id. Work may be considered "substantial" even if it is done on a part-time basis, if less money is earned, or if work responsibilities are lessened from previous employment. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1572(a) (OASDI); 20 C.F.R. § 416.972(a) (SSI). Work may be considered "gainful" if it is the kind of work usually done for pay or profit, whether or not a profit is realized. §§ 404.1572(b) and 416.972(b). Furthermore, "substantial gainful work" is considered available to an individual regardless of whether such work exists in his ...


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