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Vega v. Astrue

June 14, 2010


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



Plaintiff Iris M. Cora Vega ("Plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act ("the Act"), seeking review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"), partially granting her application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB")as well as Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"). Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that the decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") James E. Dombeck, granting the limited application for benefits was against the weight of substantial evidence contained in the record and contrary to applicable legal standards.

The Commissioner moves for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12 (c) ("Rule 12(c)"), on the grounds that the ALJ's decision was supported by substantial evidence, and made in accordance with applicable law.*fn1


On October 15, 2004, Plaintiff Iris M. Cora Vega, a forty-three year old unemployed woman, had filed a DIB application under Title II, § 216 (I) and §223 of the Social Security Act claiming a disability beginning around August 13, 2004. Prospectively on June 10, 2005, Plaintiff filed a SSI application; and both of these applications were denied by the Social Security Administration ("the Administration"). Based on her leg pain from a car accident that occurred in 2004, she was unable to return to her job as a maintenance worker at Great Metal. (Tr. 5-6).

After denial of the applications by the Administration, the Plaintiff then requested a hearing before ALJ James E. Dombeck on September 26, 2007. In a decision dated November 20, 2007, the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff was temporarily disabled from August 13, 2004 until February 3, 2006. The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the of the Commissioner when the Social Security Appeals Council denied the Plaintiff's request for timely review on September 26, 2008. On October 27, 2008, Plaintiff filed this action pursuant to § 405(g) of the Act for review of the final decision of the Commissioner.


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 Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income. Additionally, the section directs that when considering such claims, 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, 229 (1938). Section 405(g) thus limits the court's scope of review to determining whether or not the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence. See, Mongeur v. Heckler, 722 F.2d 1033, 1038 (2d Cir. 1983) (finding that the 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 the 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). Defendant 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) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Under Rule 12(c), judgment on the pleadings may be granted 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).

II. The Commissioner's Decision To Grant The Plaintiff Limited Benefits Was Supported By Substantial Evidence Within The Record And Is Proper As A Matter Of Law

The ALJ in his decision, found that Plaintiff was disabled for a limited period of time beginning on August 13, 2004 and ending on February 3, 2006 pursuant to the relevant portions of the Social Security Act. A disability is defined within 42 U.S.C. § 423(d) to be the "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment or combination of impairments that can be expected to result in death or that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d) (1991).

In determining the threshold question of Plaintiff's disability, the ALJ adhered to the Social Security Administration's 5-Step sequential analysis for evaluating assignments of disability benefits.*fn2 See 20 C.F.R. ยง 404.1520. Having gone through the evaluation process, the ALJ found (1) Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 13, 2004; (2) Plaintiff had suffered the following "severe impairments": left leg disorder, tibia fracture and open reduction, and internal fixation ("ORIF") surgery; (3) During the time of disability, Plaintiff's impairment's did not meet or equal those listed within 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), 416.920(d)); (4) During the time of determined disability, Plaintiff was unable to perform ...

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