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Tessier v. Astrue

January 28, 2010

MARK TESSIER, 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 Marc Tessier ("Plaintiff")brings this action pursuant to § 405(g) of the Social Security Act ("the Act") seeking review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying his application for disabled widower's insurance benefits ("DWIB"). Specifically, Plaintiff alleges the Commissioner's decision was not based on substantial evidence and based on error's of law, as such the Commissioner erred in not finding Plaintiff entitled to DWIB as provided in Title II of the Act.

The Commissioner moves for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) ("Rule 12(c)") on the grounds that the Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ") decision was supported by substantial evidence. 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.

The Court finds for the reasons set forth below, that there are legal errors in the ALJ's decision and further development of the evidence is appropriate, the Plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings and remand for further proceedings is granted.

BACKGROUND

On July 21, 2005, Plaintiff filed an application for DWIB based upon disability. (Transcript of Administrative Record, hereinafter "T." at 32). This application was granted a medical-vocational allowance with a disability onset date of July 1, 2005. However, it was later determined that Plaintiff was not entitled to benefits because his disability onset of July 1, 2005 was outside the relevant period to be eligible for DWIB.*fn1 (T. at 18A). Plaintiff then filed a timely request for a hearing which was held on March 13, 2008 before ALJ Robert Harvey. Plaintiff appeared with counsel. (T. at 14). In a decision dated April 9, 2008, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not entitled to DWIB under the Act. (T. at 17). Plaintiff then requested the Appeals Council review the ALJ decision. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on August 28, 2008 and the ALJ's decision became final. (T. at 4). Following the denial of review by the Appeals Council, Plaintiff timely filed the instant 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 substantial 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).

However if after a review of the pleadings the Court feels "there are gaps in the administrative record or the ALJ has applied an improper legal standard," Rosa v. Callahan, 168 F.3d 72, 82-83 (2d Cir. 1999) (quoting Pratts v. Chater, 94 F.3d 34, 39 (2d Cir. 1980), a remand to the Commissioner for further development of the evidence under 42 U.S.C. §405(g) is appropriate. Further, "where the existing Record contains persuasive proof of disability and a remand for further evidentiary proceedings would serve no further purpose, a remand for calculation of benefits is appropriate." White v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 302 F. Supp. 2d 170, 174 (W.D.N.Y. 2004)(citing Martinez v. Commissioner, 262 F. Supp. 2d 40, 49 (W.D.N.Y. 2003)).

II. There are Gaps in the Administrative Record Requiring Further ...


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