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Parajon v. Astrue

June 24, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Alvin K. Hellerstein, U.S.D.J.


I. Introduction

In this action, Plaintiff Sonia Parajon seeks review and reversal of a final determination by the Social Security Administration (SSA) denying her disability benefits. The Commissioner argues that the agency's decision is supported by substantial evidence and moves for judgment on the pleadings. For the reasons stated below, I deny the Commissioner's motion, and grant Plaintiff's motion, to the extent that Plaintiff requests that the case be remanded for a new hearing.

II. Procedural History

Plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits on April 4, 2006. Her application was denied on June 22, 2006. She initially claimed that she had been disabled since June 1, 2005, when she began to suffer from spinal and knee impairments as well as depression. However, she later amended her claim, admitting that she had worked full-time until January 4, 2006. See Tr. 41, 416-17.*fn1 Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing, which was held on June 20, 2007. Considering the case de novo, an administrative law judge ("ALJ") denied the application on July 19, 2007 after a hearing at which Plaintiff was represented by counsel. The determination by the ALJ became final when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on April 15, 2008.

III. Legal Standard

An individual may request judicial review by a district court of a final determination by the Commissioner of Social Security. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The district court may enter a judgment "affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner . . . with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing." Id. The Social Security Act provides that "the findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive." Id. Therefore, the district court does not engage in a de novo determination of whether or not the claimant is disabled, Rosa v. Callahan, 168 F.3d 72, 77 (2d Cir. 1999), but instead determines whether correct legal standards were applied and whether substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's decision. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); see also Pollard v. Halter, 377 F.3d 183, 188 (2d Cir. 2004). If the court finds that substantial evidence supports the determination, it must uphold the Commissioner's decision, even if substantial evidence supports the Plaintiff's position as well. See Schauer v. Schweiker, 675 F.2d 55, 57 (2d Cir. 1982). Evidence supporting a decision is "substantial" if reasonable minds might accept the evidence as adequate. Pollard, 377 F.3d at 188 (citing Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 407 (1971)). The substantial evidence test applies not only to findings of basic evidentiary facts, but also to inferences and conclusions drawn from such facts. Rodriguez v. Califano, 431 F. Supp. 421, 423 (S.D.N.Y. 1977).

The Social Security Act defines "disability" as the "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medially 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 twelve months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). A claimant is disabled under the Act "only if his physical or mental impairments are 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 . . . ." Id. § 423(d)(2)(A).

The Social Security Administration has promulgated a five-step procedure for evaluating disability claims. The Court of Appeals has interpreted this five-step procedure as follows:

First, the [Commissioner] considers whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity. If he is not, the [Commissioner] next considers whether the claimant has a "severe impairment" which significantly limits his physical or mental ability to do basic work activities. If the claimant suffers such an impairment, the third inquiry is whether, based solely on medical evidence, the claimant has an impairment which is listed in Appendix 1 of the regulations. If the claimant has such an impairment, the [Commissioner] will consider him disabled without considering vocational factors such as age, education, and work experience . . . . Assuming the claimant does not have a listed impairment, the fourth inquiry is whether, despite the claimant's severe impairment, he has the residual functional capacity to perform his past work. Finally, if the claimant is unable to perform his past work, the [Commissioner] then determines whether there is other work which the claimant could perform.

Rosa, 168 F.3d at 77. The burden rests on the claimant through the first four steps. Thus, the claimant must prove that he is unable to perform prior work activity. Once the claimant proves that his severe impairment prevents him from performing his past work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner at the fifth stage of the analysis. Using the residual functional capacity assessment performed at step four, the Social Security Administration must establish at the fifth step that the claimant can perform alternative substantial, gainful work that exists in significant amount in the national economy. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e); see Snipe v. Barnhart, No. 05 Civ. 10472 (LAP) (AJP), 2006 WL 2390277, at *9 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 21, 2006).

A Rule 12(c) motion 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) (citations omitted).

IV. Facts

Plaintiff was born in 1958 and has lived in the United States since 1988. See Tr. 19. From 1995 to 2004, she worked as a sewing machine operator. See Tr. 19, 58, 66, 82. In this job, she sewed curtains and cut fabric, and regularly lifted more than twenty pounds. See Tr. 58, 417-18. Starting in June 2004, she worked as a home health attendant. See Tr. 58, 79, 89, 416-17. Plaintiff testified that this job involved lifting up to twenty-five pounds and standing for up to six hours each workday. See Tr. 79. She complained of disabling pain in ...

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