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Skuza v. Astrue

January 15, 2010

JENNIFER A. SKUZA, 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 Jennifer A. Skuza ("Plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to the Social Security Act ("the Act") §§ 216(i) and 223(d), seeking review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"), denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that the Appeals Council failed to consider and make as part of the record new evidence (after her hearing) from the Plaintiff's treating source. Furthermore Plaintiff asserts, that the Appeals Council's failure to consider this evidence prevented them from determining that the Plaintiff does not have residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R 404.1567(b) except for work that requires bilateral dexterity as determined by the ALJ.

The Commissioner moves for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c) ("Rule 12(c)"), on grounds that the Commissioner's decision was supported by substantial evidence and based upon the application of the correct legal standards. The Plaintiff seeks judicial review of the final administrative decision of the Commissioner pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §405(g). Plaintiff contends that the Commissioner erred as a matter of law in determining that the Plaintiff is not entitled to Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") which was not based on substantial evidence. After reviewing the record, this case is remanded to the Commissioner for review of the entire record, which shall include Dr. Benesch's October 2008 narrative report and Residual Functional Capacity Assessment.

PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On October 23, 2006, Plaintiff, at that time 34 and one month years old, filed an application for DIB Benefits under title II, §§ 216(i) and 223 of the Social Security Act ("the Act") claiming an inability to work since January 31, 2004, due to open heart surgery, stroke, and left hand paralysis (Transcript of Administrative Proceedings at 96-98, 110, 114)(hereinafter "T."). Plaintiff's application was denied by the Social Security Administration ("the Administration") initially on February 6, 2007 (T. 54-58). Plaintiff then filed a timely request for a hearing on March 8, 2007.

Thereafter, Plaintiff appeared and testified with the assistance of an attorney, Jeffrey E. Marion, (T. 20-53) before ALJ John Costello on July 28, 2008. In a decision dated September 2, 2008, the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. This decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on December 22, 2008. Prior to denial, on October 27, 2008, Plaintiff submitted new evidence to the Appeals Council which they declined to add to the record. On January 1, 2009, 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 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, 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 Mongeur 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. Discussion of the Evidence

Under 42 U.S.C. ยง405(g) the Court's scope of review is limited to "pleadings and transcript". Specifically at issue here is whether the narrative report and Residual Functional Capacity Assessment the Plaintiff submitted to the Appeals Council on October 27, 2008 should be considered in the record. The Commissioner argues that the report should not be considered because it is not new evidence and Plaintiff did not have good cause for failing to present the evidence earlier. See Def. Br. at 21-22. The Act allows the Appeals Council to consider additional evidence, "but only upon a showing that ...


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