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Salisbury v. Astrue

December 2, 2008

DONNA SALISBURY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE*FN1 , 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, Donna Salisbury ("Plaintiff"), brings this action pursuant to Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act, claiming that the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") improperly denied her application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") and Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"). Plaintiff specifically alleges that the decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") was erroneous because it was not supported by substantial evidence in the record and was based on an improper legal standard.

Both Plaintiff and the Commissioner move for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 405(g) and Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The Commissioner claims that the ALJ's decision was supported by substantial evidence in the record. The Plaintiff moves for judgment on the pleadings claiming that there is substantial evidence in the record to support her claim for SSI and DIB benefits. This court finds that there is substantial evidence in the record to support a finding of disability within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Therefore, judgment on the pleadings is granted for the Plaintiff, and the Commissioner's motion is denied.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, Donna Salisbury, applied for SSI and DIB benefits on October 31, 2003. She claimed disability due to a herniated disk in her neck; back and leg pain; high cholesterol; high blood pressure; and diabetes. (Transcript of Administrative Proceedings at 62-3) (hereinafter "Tr."). Plaintiff is also obese, has a history of asthma, has been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, and suffered from shoulder rotator cuff syndrome that resulted in surgery. (Tr. at 162, 224, 369, 490-1). Plaintiff was 39 years old at the time of her application with a high school education and has past relevant work experience as a nurse's assistant and a newspaper deliverer. (Tr. at 20).

The Social Security Administration initially denied Plaintiff's application on April 13, 2004. Plaintiff thereafter filed a timely written request for an administrative hearing on May 6, 2004.*fn2 A video hearing was held before ALJ Judith Showalter, who presided from Dover, Delaware, on May 26, 2006. The Plaintiff appeared in Rochester, New York, with counsel, and testified at the hearing. In a decision dated July 15, 2006, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. The Appeals Council denied further review, and the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. The Plaintiff then filed this action on December 19, 2006.

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. Matthews 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 177, 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." Metropolitan Stevedore Co. V. Rambo, 521 U.S. 121, 149 (1997) (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. V. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). Section 405(g) thus limits this court's scope of review to two inquiries:

(i) whether the Commissioner's conclusions are supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole, and

(ii) whether the Commissioner's conclusions are based upon an erroneous legal standard. Green-Younger v. Barnhard, 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 substantial evidence).

The Plaintiff and the defendant both move for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 405(g) and Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Section 405(g) provides that the District Court "shall have power to enter, upon the pleadings and transcript of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing." 42 U.S.C. §405 (g) (2007). Under Rule 12(c), judgment on the pleadings may be granted 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, 642 (2d Cir. 1988).

A District Court should order payment of Social Security disability benefits in cases where the record contains persuasive proof of disability and remand for further evidentiary proceedings would serve no further purpose. See Carroll v. Secretary of Health 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 the decision of the ALJ was not supported by substantial evidence, and that there is substantial evidence in the record to support a finding of ...


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