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Jones v. Astrue

November 18, 2009

KATHLEEN JONES, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Charles J. Siragusa United States District Judge

CORRECTED DECISION and ORDER

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Kathleen Jones ("Jones"), brings this action pursuant to the Social Security Act, (codified in relevant parts at 42 U.S.C. § 401 et seq. and 42 U.S.C. § 1381 et seq.) claiming that the Commissioner of Social Security improperly denied her application for disability and supplemental income security benefits for the period from April 2005 to April 2008. Specifically, Jones alleges that the decision of an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") was erroneous and not supported by substantial evidence contained in the record, or was contrary to law.

The Commissioner moves for remand for further administrative proceedings, pursuant to the fourth sentence of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Plaintiff opposes a remand for a new hearing. Because the Court determines that the findings of the Commissioner are not supported by substantial evidence contained in the record, and that the record unequivocally shows that Jones was disabled as of April 28, 2005, the Commissioner's motion for remand for further administrative proceedings is denied, and Jones' cross-motion for judgment on the pleadings and a remand only to calculate benefits is granted.

PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On June 24, 2005, at age 59, Jones filed for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits. Jones alleged that her disability began on April 28, 2005. She claims she is unable to work as a result of back pain, depression, arthritis and a thyroid problem. Jones' application was initially denied on September 16, 2005, she requested a hearing before an ALJ, which took place on June 7, 2007. Plaintiff was represented at the hearing by Ellen Rita Heidrick, Esq.*fn1

In a decision dated August 25, 2007, ALJ Elizabeth Koennecke found that although Jones suffered from severe impairments, she was nonetheless capable of performing her past relevant work as a seamstress. Jones' appeal of the ALJ's decision to the Social Security Appeals Council was denied on August 1, 2008, and on September 22, 2008, she commenced this action.

STANDARDS OF LAW

Jurisdiction and Scope of Review

Section 405(g) of Title 42 U.S. Code, 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 findings of fact made by the Commissioner, provided that such 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, 229 (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, Mongeur v. Heckler, 722 F.2d 1033, 1038 (2d Cir. 1983) (finding that the 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 a 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).

Five-Step Sequential Analysis

For purposes of the Social Security Act, disability is the "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); Schaal, 134 F.3d at 501.

The SSA has promulgated administrative regulations for determining when a claimant meets this definition. First, the SSA considers whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful employment. If not, then the SSA considers whether the claimant has a "severe impairment" that significantly limits the "ability to do basic work activities. If the claimant does suffer such an impairment, then the SSA determines whether this impairment is one of those listed in Appendix 1 of the regulations. If the claimant's impairment is one of those listed, the SSA will presume the claimant to be disabled. If the impairment is not so listed, then the SSA must determine whether the claimant possesses the "residual functional capacity" to perform his or her past ...


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