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Pelino v. Astrue

January 22, 2010

AMY M. PELINO, 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 Amy M. Pelino ("Plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to §205(g) of the Social Security Act ("The Act") seeking review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying her application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits pursuant to Title II of the Act. The Plaintiff claims that the Commissioner erred in not finding her disabled within the meaning of the Act, the finding is not supported by substantial evidence in the record and should be reversed.

The Commissioner moves for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c), on grounds that the Commissioner's decision was supported by substantial evidence and based upon the application of the correct legal standards. Plaintiff opposes the Commissioner's motion and cross-moves for judgment on the pleadings, on grounds that Commissioner's decision was erroneous and not supported by substantial evidence in the record. After reviewing the record, I grant plaintiff's cross-motion for judgment on the pleadings, and remand this action to the Commissioner solely for calculation and payment of benefits.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Amy Pelino applied for disability insurance benefits on May 8, 2003 claiming that she had been disabled since April 16, 2003 due to panic disorder with agoraphobia. (Transcript of Administrative Record, hereinafter "Tr." (Tr. 63-67)). Plaintiff's applications were initially denied on November 6, 2003, and plaintiff thereafter requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on January 2, 2004. On May 4, 2006, Plaintiff and her counsel appeared at a hearing before ALJ William F. Clark. Thereafter, in a decision date September 25, 2006, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. (Tr. 23-30).

Plaintiff timely appealed the ALJ's decision on October 3, 2006. (Tr. 17). The Appeals Council agreed to review Plaintiff's hearing decision, and her decision was modified on April 18, 2008 acknowledging that Plaintiff could not perform her past relevant work. (Tr. 5-12). However, the Commissioner found that given Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (RFC) as determined by the ALJ, she was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. Id. Following the denial of benefits by the Appeals Council, Plaintiff timely filed the instant action. Id.

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. Proof of Disability

To establish disability under the Act, a claimant must demonstrate the "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." See 42 U.S.C. ยง423(d)(1)(A). The statute additionally requires that the claimant's impairment be of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and gainful work which exists in the national economy, regardless of whether ...


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