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Gillies v. Astrue

April 29, 2009

MARJORIE E. GILLIES, AS EXECUTRIX OF THE ESTATE OF CHRISTINE JACOBY A/K/A CHRISTINE WALCK, 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, Marjorie E. Gillies ("Plaintiff"), as Executrix of the Estate of Christine Jacoby, a.k.a. Christine Walck ("Jacoby"), brings this action pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act, seeking review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying Jacoby's application for a period of disability and Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"). Plaintiff specifically alleges that the decision of the Administrative Law Judge, Norma Cannon ("ALJ"), that Jacoby 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.

Plaintiff moves for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure ("Rule 12(c)"), on the grounds that the ALJ's decision was not supported by substantial evidence in the record, and was erroneous. The Commissioner opposes the Plaintiff's motion, and cross-moves for judgment on pleadings on the grounds that the ALJ's decision was supported by substantial evidence in the record. For the reasons set forth below, this Court finds that the ALJ's decision was not supported by substantial evidence in the record, and that there was substantial evidence in the record to find that Jacoby was disabled within the meaning of the Act prior to March 31, 1997, the date she was last insured for DIB. Therefore, this Court grants the Plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings, denies the Commissioner's motion, and remands this action to the Commissioner for calculation and payment of benefits.

BACKGROUND

Jacoby, a college graduate and former accountant, business manager, and bookstore manager, applied for disability benefits on October 7, 2003, claiming disability since April 15, 1992, due to cognitive difficulties, brain lesions, pain, diabetes, chronic fatigue syndrome, hypertension, back surgery, and sleep disorder. (Transcript of Administrative Proceedings at 80-1, 87) (hereinafter "Tr."). Jacoby's application was initially denied on January 2, 2004, and she timely requested an administrative hearing. (Tr. at 38-41). Jacoby appeared, with counsel, before ALJ Norma Cannon at a video hearing held on June 21, 2006. (Tr. at 1235-70). A lay witness, Marjorie Gillies (the Plaintiff in this case), and a vocational expert each testified at the hearing.

In a decision dated August 16, 2006, the ALJ found that Jacoby met the insured status requirements through March 31, 1997, but was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act prior to that date, and therefore was not entitled to benefits. (Tr. at 17- 27). The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Social Security Appeals Council denied further review on June 15, 2007. (Tr. at 9). Jacoby committed suicide on June 17, 2007, and the Plaintiff filed this action on behalf of her estate on August 7, 2007. (See Plaintiff's Memorandum at 1).

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 Jacoby was disabled prior to March 31, 1997, the date she was last insured for DIB. 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.

I. There is Substantial Evidence in the Record to find that Jacoby was Disabled Within the Meaning of the Social Security Act Prior to March 31, 1997

In her decision, the ALJ followed the required five-step sequential analysis for evaluating Social Security disability claims. (Tr. at 19-26). The five-step evaluation requires the ALJ to consider:

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

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


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