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Ahearn v. Astrue

February 5, 2010




In September of 2004, Plaintiff Veronica Ahearn applied for child's Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits under the Social Security Act. Plaintiff alleges that she has been disabled since September 1, 1990, due to a learning disability. The Commissioner of Social Security denied Plaintiff's applications.

Plaintiff, through her attorney, Peter M. Margolius, Esq., commenced this action on September 9, 2008, by filing a Complaint in the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York. (Docket No. 1). Plaintiff seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's denial of benefits pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405 (g) and 1383 (c)(3).

On November 5, 2009, the Honorable Norman A. Mordue, Chief United States District Judge, referred this case to the undersigned for a Report and Recommendation pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A) and (B). (Docket No. 12).


The relevant procedural history may be summarized as follows: Plaintiff applied for child's DIB and SSI benefits on September 7, 2004, alleging disability beginning on September 1, 1990. (T at 16).*fn1 The applications were denied initially and on reconsideration. (T at 16, 28-31). Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). (T at 16, 32-33). On November 18, 2005, a hearing was held before ALJ Robert Wright in Albany, New York. (T at 250-271). Plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared and testified. (T at 16, 250). A supplemental hearing was held on March 13, 2006, at which a vocational expert testified. (T at 236-49). On June 29, 2006, ALJ Wright issued a decision denying the applications for benefits. (T at 16-26). Plaintiff filed a request for review of that decision. The ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision on June 8, 2008, when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request. (T at 3-6).

Plaintiff, through counsel, commenced this action on September 9, 2008. (Docket No. 1). Plaintiff filed a supporting Brief on December 18, 2008. (Docket No. 9). The Commissioner filed a Brief in opposition on January 27, 2009. (Docket No. 10).

Pursuant to General Order No. 18, issued by the Chief District Judge of the Northern District of New York on September 12, 2003, this Court will proceed as if both parties had accompanied their briefs with a motion for judgment on the pleadings.*fn2

For the reasons that follow, it is respectfully recommended that this matter be referred to the Commissioner for further consideration.


A. Legal Standard

A court reviewing a denial of disability benefits may not determine de novo whether an individual is disabled. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3); Wagner v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 906 F.2d 856, 860 (2d Cir.1990). Rather, the Commissioner's determination will only be reversed if the correct legal standards were not applied, or it was not supported by substantial evidence. Johnson v. Bowen, 817 F.2d 983, 986 (2d Cir.1987) ("Where there is a reasonable basis for doubt whether the ALJ applied correct legal principles, application of the substantial evidence standard to uphold a finding of no disability creates an unacceptable risk that a claimant will be deprived of the right to have her disability determination made according to the correct legal principles."); see Grey v. Heckler, 721 F.2d 41, 46 (2d Cir.1983); Marcus v. Califano, 615 F.2d 23, 27 (2d Cir.1979).

"Substantial evidence" is evidence that amounts to "more than a mere scintilla," and it has been defined as "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 1427, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971). Where evidence is deemed susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, the Commissioner's conclusion must be upheld. See Rutherford v. Schweiker, 685 F.2d 60, 62 (2d Cir.1982).

If supported by substantial evidence, the Commissioner's finding must be sustained "even where substantial evidence may support the plaintiff's position and despite that the court's independent analysis of the evidence may differ from the [Commissioner's]." Rosado v. Sullivan, 805 F.Supp. 147, 153 (S.D.N.Y.1992). In other words, this Court must afford the Commissioner's determination considerable deference, and may not substitute "its own judgment for that of the [Commissioner], even if it might justifiably ...

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