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Mohamed v. Astrue

June 29, 2010

TAHINI MOHAMED O/B/O L.M.M., 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 Tahini Mohamed ("Mohamed" or "Plaintiff"), on behalf of her minor child, L.M.M. ("Claimant")*fn1 , brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), claiming that the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") incorrectly terminated the childhood Social Security Income ("SSI") benefits for L.M.M. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that the decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") William R. Pietz, which discontinued L.M.M.'s SSI benefits, was contrary to law and erroneous as it was not supported by substantial evidence in contained in the record.

Now before the Court is the Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings and Plaintiff's cross-motion for a judgment on the pleadings, both pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and 42 U.S.C. §405(g). For the reasons stated below, Plaintiff's cross-motion for a judgment on the pleadings is granted and the Commissioner's decision is reversed and remanded for calculation of benefits.

BACKGROUND

On February 20, 2003, L.M.M. was awarded SSI benefits, based on an application that Plaintiff submitted on November 30, 2002.*fn2 (Tr.*fn3 31, 80-2). L.M.M. began receiving SSI benefit because it was determined that her hearing impairment and speech-language impairments were functionally equivalent to a "listed" impairment. (Tr. 32). However, after a continuing disability review, L.M.M. received a notice dated October 25, 2006 indicating that her benefits would be terminated as of December 2006 because she was no longer disabled. (Tr. 42). In response to L.M.M.'s SSI benefit termination, Plaintiff filed a Request for Reconsideration, while electing to continue to receive benefits on behalf of L.M.M. pending the appeal. (Tr. 46-7). Pursuant to Plaintiff's request, an administrative hearing was held on December 19, 2007 before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") William R. Pietz. (Tr. 386-99). At the hearing, where L.M.M. and Plaintiff were represented, the ALJ considered the case de novo and rendered a written decision on January 10, 2008 that concluded that L.M.M. was not disabled. (Tr. 13-30). The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Social Security Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on June 13, 2008. (Tr. 5-7). This action followed.

DISCUSSION

I. APPLICABLE LEGAL STANDARDS OF REVIEW

A. Standard 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 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).

B. The Applicable Legal Standard for Determining Disability of a Child for SSI Benefits

Under the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, ("PRWORA"), Pub.L. No. 104-193, 1996 U.S.C.C.A.N. (110 Stat.) 2105, a disability exists for the purposes of SSI benefits if a child under the age of eighteen:

[1] has a medically determinable physical or mental impairment, [2] which results in marked and severe functional limitations, and [3] 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 ... [however,] no individual under the age of who engages in substantial gainful activity...may be considered to be disabled.

42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(C)(i)-(ii), see, e.g., Encarnacion v. Astrue, 568 F.3d 72, 75 (2d Cir.2009); Pollard v. Halter, 377 F.3d 183, 189 (2d Cir.2004); Machadio v. Apfel, 276 F.3d 103, 108 (2d Cir.2002); ...


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