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Eckert v. Astrue

November 5, 2009

KATHERINE A. ECKERT, 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 Katherine A. Eckert ("Plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), seeking review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"), denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits.*fn1 Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that the decision of Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") William T. Vest, Jr., as affirmed by the Social Security Appeals Council ("Council"), denying her application for benefits was against the weight of substantial evidence contained in the record and was contrary to applicable legal standards.

The Commissioner moves for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c) ("Rule 12(c)"), on grounds that the ALJ's decision was supported by substantial evidence contained in the record and was based on the correct application of appropriate 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.

Background

On September 27, 2004, Plaintiff, who was then 42 years old, filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II, §§ 216(i) and 223 of the Social Security Act ("the Act"). Plaintiff claimed a disability since August 31, 1999, due to diabetes and Addison's disease. (Transcript of the Administrative Proceedings at pages 59, 62) (hereinafter "Tr."). Plaintiff's application was denied by the Social Security Administration ("the Administration") initially on December 7, 2004. (Tr. at 32). Plaintiff filed a timely request for hearing on January 3, 2005. (Tr. at 36).

Thereafter, Plaintiff appeared via video conference, with counsel, at an administrative hearing before ALJ William T. Vest, Jr. on July 25, 2006. (Tr. at 319). In a decision dated August 17, 2006, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not entitled to disability benefits. (Tr. at 16). Plaintiff filed a timely request for a review of the hearing decision on August 22, 2006. (Tr. at 12). The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Social Security Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on May 24, 2007. (Tr. at 4). On July 20, 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 Commissioner's findings of fact if those findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record. Substantial evidence is defined as, "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 217 (1938). 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). The Court is also authorized to review the legal standards employed by the Commissioner in evaluating Plaintiff's claim.

The Court must "scrutinize the record in its entirety to determine the reasonableness of the decision reached." Lynn v. Schweiker, 565 F. Supp. 265, 267 (S.D. Tex. 1983) (citation omitted). The Commissioner asserts that his decision was reasonable and is supported by the evidence in the record, and 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). If, after a review of the pleadings, the Court is convinced that Plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief, judgment on the pleadings may be appropriate. See Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957).

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

A. The ALJ Properly Applied the Five-Step Analysis to Conclude that Plaintiff was not Disabled Under the Act

The Act defines disability as "physical or mental impairment or impairments [...] of such severity that [claimant] is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of ...


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