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Pritchett v. Astrue

March 5, 2009

VALERIE PRITCHETT PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL 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, Valerie Pritchett ("Plaintiff"), brings this action pursuant to sections 216(i) and 223 (d) of the Social Security Act, claiming that the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") improperly denied her application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits ("DIB"). The Plaintiff specifically alleges that the decision of the Administrative Law Judge, James E. Dombeck ("ALJ"), that the Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act, was not supported by substantial evidence in the record, and was contrary to the applicable legal standards.

The Commissioner moves for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12 (c) ("Rule 12 (c)") on the grounds that the ALJ's decision was supported by substantial evidence in the record. The Plaintiff cross-moves for judgment on the pleadings on the grounds that the ALJ's decision was erroneous. This Court finds that the decision of the Commissioner, that the Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act, is supported by substantial evidence in the record and is in accordance with the applicable legal standards. Therefore, for the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings is granted, and the Plaintiff's motion is denied.

BACKGROUND

The Plaintiff, a former Certified Nurses Aide ("CNA"), filed an application for DIB on August 26, 2004, claiming a disability due to carpal tunnel syndrome, wrist, elbow, shoulder, knee, and neck pain. (Transcript of Administrative Proceedings at 64-5, 74) (hereinafter "Tr."). The application was initially denied on November 16, 2004. (Tr. at 36). Plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing on December 17, 2004. (Tr. at 42).

Plaintiff appeared, with counsel, and testified at the hearing on December 5, 2006 in Rochester, New York, before ALJ, James E. Dombeck. (Tr. at 397-423). In a decision dated January 19, 2007, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (Tr. at 14-25). The Appeals Council denied further review, and the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner on September 21, 2007. (Tr. at 6-9). The Plaintiff then filed this action on November 21, 2007.

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. When considering such claims, this section directs the Court to accept the findings of fact made by the Commissioner, provided that these findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record. Substantial evidence is "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) limits the Court's scope of review to determining whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence and whether the Commissioner employed the proper legal standards. See Monger v. Heckler, 722 F.2d 1033, 1038 (2d Cir. 1982) (finding that a reviewing Court does not try a benefits case de novo). The Court must, however, review the entire record to determine whether the Commissioner's decision was reasonable. Lynn v. Schweiker, 565 F. Supp. 265, 267 (S.D. Tex. 1983)(citation omitted).

The Commissioner moves for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12 (c), asserting that his decision was reasonable and was supported by substantial evidence in the record. Rule 12 (c) permits judgment on the pleadings 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 the court is convinced, after reviewing the pleadings, that the 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. Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957). After reviewing the entire record, this Court finds that the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence in the record. Therefore, the Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings is granted, and the Plaintiff's motion is denied.

II. The Commissioner's Decision to deny the Plaintiff Benefits was Supported by Substantial Evidence in the Record

The ALJ found that the Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. In reaching his decision, the ALJ followed the required five-step sequential analysis for evaluating Social Security disability benefits claims. The five-step analysis considers:

(1) whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity;

(2) if not, whether the claimant has a severe impairment which significantly limits his physical or mental ...


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