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Hyland v. Astrue

August 7, 2008

MATTHEW J. HYLAND, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, 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 Matthew J. Hyland ("Plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to the Social Security Act 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), seeking review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying his application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") disability benefits. 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 Barry E. Ryan's decision was supported by substantial evidence contained in the record. Plaintiff cross-moves for judgment on the pleadings on the grounds that the Commissioner's denial was based on an improper legal standard and was not supported by substantial evidence in the record.

For the reasons set forth below, I 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 July 30, 1996, Plaintiff's mother, Deborah Canfield, filed an application with the Social Security Administration ("Administration") for SSI childhood disability benefits on behalf of Plaintiff. (Tr. 59-62.) Plaintiff, who was born on February 4, 1980, was 16 years old at the time the application was made. (Tr. 59.) He claimed he had become disabled on July 30, 1996. (Tr. 59.) The Administration denied the application and Plaintiff's timely request for reconsideration. (Tr. 38-40, 42, 44-47.) On May 5, 1998, a hearing was held before ALJ Franklin T. Russell at which Plaintiff and his mother testified. (Tr. 376-403.) Plaintiff was not represented by counsel. (Tr. 378.) After ALJ Russell denied Plaintiff's claim on October 2, 1998, Plaintiff filed a request for review with the Social Security Appeals Council ("Appeals Council"). (Tr. 203-20, 227.) On November 2, 2000, the Appeals Council vacated the ALJ's decision and remanded Plaintiff's case for further evaluation. (Tr. 225-26.)

Following the remand, ALJ Russell held a second hearing on July 24, 2001 at which Plaintiff appeared, represented by an attorney. (Tr. 349-75.) Plaintiff and his mother both testified at this second hearing. (Tr. 349-75.) ALJ Russell issued a second decision denying Plaintiff disability benefits on September 10, 2001. (Tr. 278-91.) Plaintiff filed a second request for review with the Appeals Council. (Tr. 246.) In an order dated September 22, 2004, the Appeals Council vacated ALJ Russell's decision, issued September 10, 2001, and remanded the case to an ALJ for further evaluation. (Tr. 292-94.)

Following this second remand, a third hearing was held in Corning, New York before ALJ Barry E. Ryan on February 8, 2006. (Tr. 329-48.) Plaintiff testified and was represented by counsel. (Tr. 329-48.) In a decision dated March 13, 2006, ALJ Ryan found that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (Tr. 16-26.) Plaintiff appealed that decision to the Appeals Council on May 16, 2006. (Tr. 320-24.)

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 September 8, 2006. (Tr. 9-15.) On November 13, 2006, Plaintiff 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 SSI 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 Mongeur 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 Plaintiff and the Commissioner each move 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 in favor of the Commissioner may be appropriate. See Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957). The Commissioner's determination will not be upheld if it is not supported by ...


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