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Skibinski v. Astrue

March 17, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael A. Telesca United States District Judge



Plaintiff Marsha L. Skibinski ("Plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to § 205(g) of the Social Security Act ("the Act"), 42. U.S.C § 405(g) seeking review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") Michael Astrue, denying her application for Disability Insurance benefits. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that the decision of Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Paula F. Garrety denying her application for benefits was erroneous and not supported by the substantial evidence contained in the record or the applicable law.

The Commissioner moves for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c) ("Rule 12(c)"), on the grounds that the Commissioner's decision was based on substantial evidence. Plaintiff opposes the Commissioner's motion, and cross-moves for judgment on the pleadings, or in the alternative to remand the matter for a new hearing on grounds that the decision denying the Plaintiff benefits was against the weight of substantial evidence, was arbitrary and capricious, and was an error of law. The Court finds the decision of the Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence and is in accordance with applicable law, and therefore the Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings is granted, and the plaintiff's cross-motion for summary judgment is denied.


On June 26, 2004, Plaintiff filed an application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits alleging inability to work beginning August 4, 2001 due to reflux sympathetic dystrophy, herniated discs in the neck and lower back, and post traumatic concussion syndrome. Plaintiff later alleged disability due to bilateral knee pain. Plaintiff's application was initially denied on November 8, 2004. Plaintiff then filed a timely request for a hearing on December 6, 2004.

Thereafter, Plaintiff appeared, with counsel, before ALJ Paula F. Garrety on January 25, 2006. At the hearing, Plaintiff amended her alleged onset date to August 7, 2002, consistent with the date of her motor vehicle accident. In a decision dated April 6, 2006 the ALJ determined the Plaintiff was not disabled. The decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Social Security Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on May 2, 2008. On June 27, 2008, Plaintiff filed this action.


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, Monqeur 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). However, a remand to the Commissioner for further development of the evidence is proper when "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)).

II. The Commissioner's Decision to Deny the Plaintiff Benefits was Supported by Substantial Evidence in the Record

The ALJ determined the plaintiff was not disabled under Sections 216(i) and 2234(d) of the Social Security Act, as the plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform a full range of sedentary work, and therefore was "not disabled" under Medical Vocational Rule 201.21. (Tr. 31). For the reasons set forth below, I find that although the ALJ erred in failing to explain why she did not fully credit an opinion of one of the plaintiff's treating physicians, this error was harmless, and the substantial evidence in the record supports the ALJ's finding that plaintiff is not disabled. I therefore affirm the decision of the Commissioner.

Plaintiff contends the ALJ failed to consider the opinion of Dr. Daniel Wild, one of the plaintiff's treating physicians, and that this failure constitutes legal error and requires remand. (Pl. Br. at 6-9). Dr. Wild, an orthopedic surgeon, treated the plaintiff numerous times and offered opinions on her condition over a period ranging from March 21, 2003 through September 30, 2003. (Tr. 26, 330-348, 421). Plaintiff argues Dr. Wild's opinions indicate she cannot perform sedentary work. (PL. Br. at 6-9). Plaintiff interprets Dr. Wild's opinions that her [Plaintiff's] knee pain when seated and ...

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