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Arguinzoni v. Astrue

June 22, 2009

THERESA R. ARGUINZONI, 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 Theresa Arguinzoni ("Plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the Social Security Act, claiming that the Commissioner of Social Security improperly denied her application for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income benefits ("SSI"). Specifically, the plaintiff alleges that the final decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") denying her application for benefits was not supported by substantial evidence in the record, was contrary to applicable legal standards, and failed to comply with the Appeals Council's remand order.

Both the plaintiff and the Commissioner move for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons set forth below, this Court finds that the decision of the Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence and is based upon valid applicable law. The Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings is hereby granted.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff filed applications for Disability Insurance Benefits and SSI on April 21, 2003. (Transcript of Administrative Proceedings at pages 134-37) (hereinafter "T."). She was thirty-seven at the time of her application and alleged an inability to work beginning on April 13, 2000, due to degenerative disc disease, disc herniation, and spinal stenosis.

(T. 160). Her applications were denied on August 22, 2003, and Plaintiff requested a hearing by an ALJ which was on November 8, 2005. (T. 73-80). The ALJ issued a decision on January 10, 2006, which found the plaintiff was not disabled under the definition in the Social Security Act because she was capable of performing a significant range of work. (T. 61-72, repeated at 115-26). The plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's decision to the Appeals Council, who remanded the case for further proceedings. (T. 47-51, 60). Based upon that remand, the ALJ held a supplemental hearing on October 11, 2006, at which the plaintiff, the plaintiff's attorney, and an impartial vocational expert appeared and testified. (T. 668-717). On January 18, 2007, the ALJ issued a decision finding the plaintiff was not disabled. (T. 20-34). The ALJ's January 2007 decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on July 11, 2008. (T. 10-12, 44-46). The plaintiff then filed this action on August 4, 2008.

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. Section 405(g) provides that the District Court "shall have the 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. § 405(g) (2007). 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 "'more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'" Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)); see also Metropolitan Stevedore Co. v. Rambo, 521 U.S. 121, 149 (1997).

When determining whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence, the Court's task is "to examine the entire record, including contradictory evidence and evidence from which conflicting interferences can be drawn." Brown v. Apfel, 174 F.3d 59, 62 (2d Cir. 1999) (quoting Mongeur v. Heckler, 722 F.2d 1033, 1038 (2d Cir. 1983) (per curiam)). Section 405(g) limits the scope of the Court's review to two inquiries: determining whether the Commissioner's findings were supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole, and whether the Commissioner's conclusions are based upon an erroneous legal standard. Green-Younger v. Barnhart, 335 F.3d 99, 105-06 (2d Cir. 2003); see also Mongeur, 722 F.2d at 1038 (finding a reviewing court does not try a benefits case de novo).

The Commissioner asserts his decision was reasonable and supported by the evidence in the records, and moves for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. 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). A party's motion will be dismissed if, after a review of the pleadings, the Court is convinced that the party does not set out factual allegations that are "enough to raise a right to relief beyond the speculative level." Bell Atlantic Corp. V. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007).

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

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), 1382c(a)(3)(A) (2004). In addition, an individual's physical or mental impairments are not disabling under the Act unless "of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy." 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(2)(a), 1383(a)(3)(B). See also Berry v. Schweiker, 675 F.2d 464, 466-67 (2d Cir. 1982).

The plaintiff filed applications for both Disability Insurance Benefits and SSI benefits under sections 216(i), 223(d) and 1614(a)(3)(A) of the Social Security Act. Both programs have different statutory criteria to determine eligibility, but they both similarly use the same definition of disability. See Perez v. Chater, 77 F.3d 41, 46 (2d Cir. 1996). A determination by the Commissioner that a ...


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