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Lenczewski v. Astrue

June 15, 2010

DARCY LENCZEWSKI, ON BEHALF OF GEORGE A. LENCZEWSKI (DECEASED), PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL 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, Darcy Lenczewski, on behalf of George A. Lenczewski (Lenczewski), brings this action pursuant to sections 216(I) and 223(d) of the Social Security Act seeking review of a final decision by the Commissioner of Social Security denying Lenczewski's application for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income for the period of October 1, 2002 to August 9, 2005. The Plaintiff asserts that the determination by the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) that Lenczewski was not disabled is not supported by substantial evidence and should therefore be reversed. The Plaintiff further asserts that the Appeals Council's determination, denying Plaintiff's request for review upon finding substantial evidence of substantial gainful activity, was unresponsive to Plaintiff's claim that these wages were earned during unsuccessful work attempts as provided for under 20 C.F.R § 404.1574(a), (c).

The Commissioner moves for judgment on the pleadings affirming his final decision that Lenczewski is not entitled to these benefits on the grounds that the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence in the record. The Plaintiff opposes this motion and cross-moves for a judgment on the pleadings in her favor or, in the alternative, for the matter to be remanded for a new hearing on grounds that the decision was against the weight of evidence. For the reasons set forth hereunder, the Court finds the that decision of the Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence and is in accordance with the applicable law.

Background

On May 5, 2004, Lenczewski applied for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income("SSI") under the Social Security Act ("the Act"), Titles II and XVI respectively. Both applications alleged disability since May 1, 2004, due to severe depression and anxiety. The date of alleged onset was subsequently amended to reflect an onset date of October 1, 2002. Both applications were denied on July 14, 2004, and a timely written request for a hearing before an ALJ was filed. Lenczewski died on August 9, 2005, after sustaining a gunshot wound to the abdomen. On April 12, 2006, the Plaintiff, as deceased's widow, substituted herself as a party in this case.

The Plaintiff appeared, with counsel, at an administrative hearing before the ALJ on April 27, 2006. In a decision dated August 21, 2006, the ALJ determined that Lenczewski's earnings from 2002 to 2005 showed that he had engaged in substantial gainful activity ("SGA") throughout that period and that there had been no continuous 12-month period during which Lenczewski had not engaged in SGA. Therefore, the ALJ determined that Lenczewski was not under a "disability" as defined by SSA §§ 404.1520(b) and 416.920(b). The ALJ's decision became final when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on September 24, 2008. The Plaintiff filed this action on November 26, 2008.

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. Matthews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 320 (1976). 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, 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). 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) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. 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 the 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). II. Standard for Entitlement to Social Security Benefits The ALJ, in his decision, found that the Lenczewski was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. The Act defines a disability as 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..." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). An individual will only be considered "under a disability" if his impairment is so severe that he is both unable to do his previous work and unable to engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work that exists in the national economy. §§ 423(d)(2)(A) and 1382c(a)(3)(B).

In determining if a disability exists, the ALJ is required to adhere to the following five-step sequential evaluation:

(1) if the claimant is performing substantial gainful work, he is not disabled;

(2) if the claimant is not performing substantial gainful work, his impairment(s) must be "severe" ...


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