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Cage v. Astrue

October 5, 2009

JOSEPHINE L. CAGE, 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 Josephine L. Cage("Plaintiff")brings this action pursuant to section 405(g) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to review the final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security (the "Commissioner"), denying her application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that the decision of Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") John P. Costello denying her application for benefits was not supported by substantial evidence contained in the record and was contrary to applicable legal standards.

The Commissioner moves for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, on grounds that the ALJ's decision was supported by substantial evidence. Plaintiff opposes the Commissioner's motion, and cross-moves for judgment on the pleadings, on grounds that the Commissioner's decision was not supported by substantial evidence and was based upon legal error. For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds that the decision of the Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence in the record and is in accordance with applicable law. I therefore grant the Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings, and deny plaintiff's cross-motion for judgment on the pleadings.

BACKGROUND

On May 12, 2004, Plaintiff, who was 43 years old at the time, protectively filed an application for SSI benefits. Plaintiff claimed that she had become disabled on November 3, 2003, due to mental health disorders and syncope. Tr.*fn1 59. Plaintiff's initial application was denied on January 14, 2005, and she filed a timely request for a hearing. Tr. 39-44. An administrative hearing was held on May 30, 2007, which Plaintiff and her attorney, Mark Palmiere, attended. Tr. 483. In a decision dated August 7, 2007, ALJ Costello found that, although Plaintiff was disabled, her drug and alcohol abuse were contributing factors material to his determination of her disability and that, absent her drug and alcohol abuse, Plaintiff was not disabled. Tr. 17-28. The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Social Security Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on June 10, 2008. Tr. 6-8. This action followed.

DISCUSSION

I. Jurisdiction and Scope of Review

Title 42, Section 405(g) of the United States Code grants jurisdiction to Federal District Courts to hear claims based on the denial of Social Security benefits. See Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 320 (1976). In addition, Section 405(g) directs that the District Court must accept the Commissioner's findings of fact if those findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record. See Bubnis v. Apfel, 150 F.3d 177, 181 (2d Cir. 1998); see also Williams v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 2007 U.S. App. LEXIS 9396, at *3 (2d Cir. Apr. 24, 2007).

Substantial evidence is defined as "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." See Metropolitan Stevedore Co. v. Rambo, 521 U.S. 121, 149 (1997) (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). Section 405(g) thus limits this court's scope of review to two inquiries: (i) whether the Commissioner's conclusions are supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole, and (ii) whether the Commissioner's conclusions are based upon an erroneous legal standard. See Green-Younger v. Barnhart, 335 F.3d 99, 105-06 (2d Cir. 2003); see also Wagner v. Secretary of Health & Human Serv., 906 F.2d 856, 860 (2d Cir. 1990) (holding that review of the Secretary's decision is not de novo and that the Secretary's findings are conclusive if supported by substantial evidence).

For a claimant engaged in drug or alcohol use, the Social Security Act precludes payment of benefits if alcoholism or drug addiction would be a contributing factor material to a determination of disability, 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(c), with "material" defined in the regulations as whether or not the claimant would be found disabled if he were to stop using alcohol or drugs, 20 C.F.R. § 404.1535(b)(1). The Commissioner makes a separate determination to see if the physical or mental limitations would remain if claimant stopped using drugs and then determine if any of the remaining limitations would be disabling. Id. § 404.1535(b)(2).

Both Plaintiff and the Commissioner move for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 405(g) and Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Section 405(g) provides that the District Court "shall have 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.S. § 405(g) (2007). 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. See Sellers v. M.C. Floor Crafters, Inc., 842 F.2d 639, 642 (2d Cir. 1988).

II. The Commissioner's decision to deny Plaintiff benefits is supported by substantial evidence in the record and is proper as a matter of law.

The record reveals that the ALJ properly followed the Social Security Administration's five-step evaluation analysis in finding that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. ...


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