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Wischoff v. Astrue

April 16, 2010

BARBARA ANN WISCHOFF, 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 Barbara Ann Wischoff ("Wischoff") brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §405(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 disability insurance benefits. Specifically, Wischoff challenges Administrative Law Judge John P. Costello's ("ALJ")determination that she is not disabled under the sequential evaluation process(20 C.F.R. 404.1520(a) and 416.920(a)) set forth by the Social Security Administration under the Social Security Act. Plaintiff alleges that the ALJ's decision was unsupported by substantial evidence and based on errors of law.

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. Wischoff 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. For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds that the decision of the Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence on the record, and is in accord with applicable law. Therefore, the Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings is hereby granted.

BACKGROUND

Wischoff filed an application for disability insurance benefits under Titles II and XVIII, Part A, of the Social Security Act on November 17, 2006, for a period of disability beginning on July 7, 2004. (T. 101). Plaintiff later amended her onset date to February 1, 2006, the date of her first surgery for carpal tunnel release. (T. 29). Wischoff's claim was based on her alleged inability to use both hands, her right shoulder and elbow, as well as anxiety and depression all of which had become progressively worse from July 2004 through August 28, 2006 when she stopped working. (T. 131). The Social Security Administration denied Wischoff's application on March 9, 2007, and she requested a hearing before an administrative law judge on May 5, 2007. (T. 67, 73).

Wischoff, represented by Counsel, appeared before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") John P. Costello in Rochester, New York. (T. 24 - 65). In a decision dated January 10, 2008, the ALJ concluded that Wischoff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. (T. 9). Plaintiff filed a request for review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council on January 25, 2008 alleging that the ALJ's decision was against both the "weight of substantial evidence" and Wischoff's "strong and credible testimony." (T. 4). The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Social Security Appeals Council denied Wischoff's request for review on June 19, 2008. (Tr. 5-7). On August 15, 2008, Wischoff 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 Glover'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 Wischoff can prove no set of facts in support of her claim which would entitle her 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. §423(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 such work exists in the immediate area in which he lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or whether he would be hired if he applied for work. §423(d)(2)(A)

In making a determination as to a plaintiff's disability, the Commissioner is required to apply the five-step process set forth in 20 C.F.R. §416.920. The Second Circuit has described the five-step process as follows:

First, the Secretary considers whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity. If he is not, the Secretary next considers whether the claimant has a "severe impairment" which significantly limits his physical or mental ability to do basic work activities. If the claimant suffers such an impairment, the third inquiry is whether, based solely on medical evidence, the claimant has an impairment which is listed in Appendix 1 of the regulations. If the claimant has such an impairment, the Secretary will consider him disabled without considering vocational factors such as age, education, and work experience . . . . Assuming the claimant does not have a listed impairment, the fourth inquiry is whether, despite the claimant's severe impairment, he has the ...


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