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Morris v. Astrue

April 14, 2009

CHARLES V. MORRIS, 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, Charles W. Morris ("Plaintiff"), brings this action pursuant to Title II and XVI of the Social Security Act seeking review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying his application for a period of disability and Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"). The Plaintiff specifically alleges that the decision of the Administrative Law Judge, Steven J. Neary ("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.

Both the Plaintiff and the Commissioner move for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c)("Rule 12(c)"). The Commissioner asserts that the ALJ's decision was supported by substantial evidence in the record. The Plaintiff claims that the ALJ's decision was not supported by substantial evidence in the record and was erroneous. For the reasons set forth below, this court finds that the ALJ's decision was not supported by substantial evidence in the record. Therefore, the Plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings is granted, the Commissioner's motion is denied, and the case is remanded to the Commissioner for calculation and payment of benefits as of the Plaintiff's disability onset date, November 23, 2003.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, a former purchasing/stock selector, warehouse worker, sales representative, and route sales representative, filed an application for DIB on May 13, 2004, claiming disability due to cardiomyoapathy, mitrovalve prolapse and arrhythmia, depression, and osteoarthritis in the left knee. (Transcript of Administrative Proceedings at 73, 102-4) (hereinafter "Tr."). His application was initially denied on April 28, 2005, and Plaintiff timely requested an administrative hearing on May 12, 2005. (Tr. at 59-62). An administrative hearing was held on January 31, 2006 before ALJ Steven J. Neary. (Tr. at 390-432). The Plaintiff appeared, with counsel, and testified at the hearing which was held by video teleconference. Id.

In a decision dated May 26 2006, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (Tr. at 18-30). The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner on December 28, 2006, when the Appeals Council denied further review. (Tr. at 8-10). The Plaintiff then filed this action. The Plaintiff has since been found disabled by the Commissioner, in a decision dated December 23, 2008, after an administrative hearing was held on a subsequent disability application. In that decision, the Plaintiff was found disabled as of May 26, 2006, the date of the ALJ's decision in this case. Therefore, the issue presented is whether there is substantial evidence in the record to support a finding that the Plaintiff was disabled from November 23, 2003 to May 26, 2006.

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 these cases, this section directs the Court to accept the findings of fact made by the Commissioner, provided that such 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, 229 (1938). The Court's scope of review is limited to whether or not the Commissioner's findings were supported by substantial evidence in the record, and whether the Commissioner employed the proper legal standards in evaluating the plaintiff's claim. See Monger v. Heckler, 722 F.2d 1033, 1038 (2d Cir. 1983) (finding a reviewing Court does not try a benefits case de novo). 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 moves for judgment on the pleadings pursuant To Rule 12(c), on the grounds that the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence in the record and is not in accordance with the applicable legal standards. The Commissioner claims that the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence in the record and moves for judgment on the pleadings to affirm this decision. 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 reviewing the record, the Court is convinced 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. See Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957). This Court finds that there is substantial evidence in the record to find that the Plaintiff was disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act as of November 23, 2003. Therefore, the Plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings is granted, and the Commissioner's motion is denied.

II. The Commissioner's Decision to deny the Plaintiff Benefits is not Supported by Substantial Evidence in the Record

In his decision, the ALJ adhered to the required 5-step sequential analysis for evaluating Social Security disability benefits cases. (Tr. at 18-30). The 5-step analysis ...


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