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Hall v. Astrue

October 2, 2009

LINDA K. HALL, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Richard J. Arcara Chief Judge United States District Court

DECISION AND ORDER

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Linda Hall brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), claiming that the defendant, Michael Astrue, the Commissioner of Social Security (the "Commissioner"), improperly denied her application for disability benefits under the Social Security Act. The plaintiff claims to be disabled as a result of left knee osteomyelitis, left knee swelling/arthritis, right shoulder problems/tendonitis, asthma/emphysema, mitral valve regurgitation, heart problems/palpitations, Hepatitis, anxiety, and depression. (R. 22). The Commissioner moves for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c), on grounds that the Administrative Law Judge's (ALJ's) decision was supported by substantial evidence in the record and is based upon the application of the correct legal standards. Plaintiff also cross-moves for judgment on the pleadings, alleging that the Commissioner's determination is erroneous and that she was and continues to be disabled. For the reasons stated herein, the Court grants judgment on the pleadings for the plaintiff and finds that the matter must be remanded for calculation of benefits because the Commissioner's decision denying the plaintiff Social Security Income benefits ("SSI") was not supported by substantial evidence. Furthermore, a rehearing is unnecessary because there is substantial evidence on the record that the plaintiff is disabled.

BACKGROUND

On February 13, 2001, plaintiff Linda Hall, applied for SSI. (R. 21).*fn1

Her claim was denied on March 28, 2001, and denied again on reconsideration on May 15, 2001. (R. 109, 115). A hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Eric Glazer on October 16, 2002. (R. 860-79). ALJ Glazer found the plaintiff not disabled on November 27, 2002, and the plaintiff did not appeal the decision. (R. 40-51). Instead, the plaintiff filed a new SSI application on April 4, 2003, which was denied on September 19, 2003. (R. 59, 122). The plaintiff then requested an administrative hearing on October 17, 2003. (R. 63).

A hearing was held before ALJ William Pietz on September 20, 2005. (R. 880-909). On October 17, 2005, ALJ Pietz found the plaintiff not disabled at any time since November 28, 2002, amending her alleged onset date to the day after ALJ Glazer's decision on the basis of res judicata.*fn2 (R. 18-30). The plaintiff requested review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council on December 17, 2002 (R. 54), and subsequently retained counsel who submitted comments in support of her claim on October 3, 2006 (R. 925-31), as well as over two hundred additional pages of medical evidence, including new and material evidence. (R. 596-910, 914-24). The Appeals Council denied the request for review on November 27, 2007. (R. 10-15).

The plaintiff then commenced this action on January 11, 2008. The Commissioner filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings on August 19, 2008, and the plaintiff cross-moved for judgment on the pleadings on September 18, 2008.

The plaintiff was born on November 28, 1958, and was therefore forty-six years old as of the date of ALJ Pietz's decision. She completed some of her high school education, but failed classes in tenth and eleventh grade, and never graduated. (R. 864). Although she has performed some work in the past fifteen years as a dishwasher and home health aide, the ALJ conceded that none of it was performed as substantial gainful activity, and therefore she had no past relevant work. (R. 28).

DISCUSSION

This Court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to hear claims based on the denial of Social Security benefits. This Court may set aside the Commissioner's decision only if it is based upon legal error or his factual findings are not supported by substantial evidence. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). "Substantial evidence means more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Burgess v. Astrue, 537 F.3d 117, 127 (2d. Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks omitted); Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)).

In order to establish disability under the Act, the plaintiff has the burden of demonstrating (1) that she was unable to engage in substantial gainful activity by reason of a physical or mental impairment that could have been expected to last for a continuous period of at least twelve months, and (2) that the existence of such impairment was demonstrated by evidence supported by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory techniques. See 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3); see also Barnhart v. Walton, 535 U.S. 212, 215 (2002). Moreover, eligibility for SSI based upon disability is conditioned upon compliance with the income and resource requirements of 42 U.S.C. §§ 1382a and 1382b.

The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential evaluation for the adjudication of disability claims:

The first step of this process requires the Secretary to determine whether the claimant is presently employed. If the claimant is not employed, the Secretary then determines whether the claimant has a severe impairment that limits her capacity to work. If the claimant has such an impairment, the Secretary next considers whether the claimant has an impairment that is listed in Appendix 1 of the regulations. When the claimant has such an impairment, the Secretary will find the claimant disabled. However, if the claimant does not have a listed impairment, the Secretary must determine, under the fourth step, whether the claimant possesses the residual functional capacity to perform her ...


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