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Johnson v. Astrue

June 12, 2009

GEORGE L. JOHNSON, 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 George L. Johnson ("Plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to the Social Security Act §205(g) as amended (42 U.S.C. §405(g)), seeking review of the decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") J. Robert Brown, denying his application for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI").*fn1 Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that the decision of the ALJ denying his application for benefits was against the weight of the substantial evidence in the record and contrary to 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 grounds that the Commissioner's decision was erroneous. The Commissioner cross-moves for judgment on the pleadings on grounds that the ALJ's decision was supported by substantial evidence in the record and is based upon the application of correct legal standards. For the reasons set forth below, I find that the decision of the Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence, and is in accordance with applicable law. I therefore grant the Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings, and deny Plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings.

Background

On June 23, 2004, Plaintiff, at the time 33 years old and unemployed, filed an application for DIB and SSI under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act ("the Act") respectively, claiming a disability since September 15, 2003, due to scoliosis, congenital abnormalities, and on-the-job back injuries with resulting disc herniations and disc bulge with associated neural foraminal stenosis. Plaintiff is a high school graduate and had completed one year of college. (T. 47, 405, 433). Plaintiff's past relevant work experience included work as a certified nurse assistant ("CNA") and a telemarketer/customer service representative. (T. 435-36).

Plaintiff had two work-related injuries in June 2003 and September 2003. (T. 436-37). Both injuries occurred while he was working as a CNA and he prevented two patients from falling on the ground. Following his second work injury, Plaintiff was seen by a chiropractor, and went to physical therapy twice a week. (T. 438).

Plaintiff's application for benefits was denied by the Social Security Administration initially on October 6, 2004. Plaintiff filed a timely request for hearing on October 15, 2004. Thereafter, Plaintiff appeared, with counsel, at an administrative hearing before ALJ J. Robert Brown on July 14, 2006. James Ryan, a vocational expert, also appeared and testified at the hearing. In a decision dated October 20, 2006, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform sedentary, unskilled work that exists in significant numbers in the national economy and, therefore, was not disabled. The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Social Security Appeals Council affirmed it on August 16, 2007. On September 28, 2007, Plaintiff filed this action.

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 "more than a mere scintilla [of evidence]; it means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Lamay v. Commissioner of Social Sec., 562 F.3d 503 (2d Cir. 2009).

Section 405(g) thus limits the Court's scope of review to determining whether or not the Commissioner's findings were supported by substantial evidence. See, Monqeur v. Heckler, 722 F.2d 1033, 1038 (2d Cir. 1983) (finding that a reviewing court does not try a benefits case de novo). Nevertheless, the Court must "scrutinize the record in its entirety to determine the reasonableness of the decision reached." Lynn v. Schweiker, 55 F. Supp. 265, 267 (S.D. Tex. 1983) (citation omitted). The Court is also authorized to review the legal standards employed by the Commissioner in evaluating Plaintiff's claim.

Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ's decision was against the weight of the substantial evidence contained in the record, was arbitrary and capricious, and contained legal errors. Accordingly, Plaintiff moves for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c). The Commissioner asserts that his decision was reasonable and is supported by the evidence in the record, and cross-moves for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c).

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). In deciding a motion for judgment on the pleadings, the Court applies the "same standard as that applicable to a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, accepting the allegations contained in the complaint as true and drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party." King v. American Airlines, Inc., 284 F.3d 352 (2d Cir. 2002). A party's motion will be dismissed if, after a review of the pleadings, the Court is convinced that ...


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