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Faucett v. Astrue

January 30, 2009

ANGELA L. FAUCETT, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL ASTRUE COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael A. Telesca United States District Judge

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Angela Faucett ("Plaintiff" or "Faucett"), brings this action pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act, codified at 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3) claiming that the Commissioner of Social Security improperly denied her application for disability benefits. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits is not supported by substantial evidence, and correct legal standards were not applied. Faucett argues that the decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") improperly discounted the opinions of the Plaintiff's treating physicians and improperly concluded that she had retained the residual capacity to perform work in the economy.

The Commissioner moves for judgment on the pleadings on grounds that the ALJ's decision was correct and was supported by substantial evidence. Plaintiff opposes the Commissioner's motion, and cross-moves for judgment on the pleadings, on grounds that the Commissioner's decision was erroneous. For the reasons set forth below, the court finds that the decision of the Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence, and is in accordance with applicable law. Accordingly, the Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings is hereby granted, and the Plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings is denied.

BACKGROUND

On January 13, 2004, Plaintiff applied for supplemental security income benefits. Plaintiff, at that time, was an unemployed 24 year-old mother of two claiming a disability resulting from depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and agoraphobia. Plaintiff's application was denied, and she requested an administrative hearing. An administrative hearing was scheduled before ALJ Jasper Beade on December 15, 2004, but the hearing was adjourned so that the Plaintiff could obtain representation. The Plaintiff returned with an attorney present on September 9, 2005 and ALJ Beade considered the case de novo. In a written decision dated October 6, 2005 the ALJ found that the claimant was not disabled. Plaintiff then requested a review of ALJ Beade's decision which was granted by the Appeals Council. The Appeals Council vacated ALJ Beade's decision after finding that his decision did not satisfy the regulatory requirements with respect to evaluating claimant's subjective complaints in terms of pertinent factors set forth in 20 C.F.R. 416.929. Also, further contact with the treating psychiatrist was warranted to clarify his opinions regarding the Plaintiff's ability to perform work-related functions. The case was then remanded for a new hearing. An administrative hearing was held on May 23, 2007 before ALJ Elizabeth W. Koennecke, at which plaintiff appeared with her attorney. ALJ Koennecke heard the case de novo and on June 27, 2007 held that the Plaintiff was not disabled. The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Social Security Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on December 28, 2007. Subsequently this action followed.

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. Additionally, the section directs that when considering such a claim, the 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." 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).

Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 405(g) and Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Plaintiff and the defendant both move for judgment on the pleadings. 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.S. § 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). 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. 42 U.S.C. §§ 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 for her, or whether she would be hired if she were to apply for work. 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d) (2) (A) and 1382c(a)(3)(B).

When a claimant requests a Social Security disability hearing before an ALJ, Social Security Administration's regulations require the ALJ to perform the ...


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