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Ramos v. Astrue

July 19, 2010

DAVID R. RAMOS, 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 David R. Ramos ("Plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act ("the Act"), seeking review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"), denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"). Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that the decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Robert Harvey denying his 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. This Court finds that the decision of the Commissioner for the reasons set forth below, is not supported by substantial evidence nor in accordance with applicable law, and should be reversed and remanded for further development of the facts.

Background

Plaintiff injured his right foot in a hunting accident when his shotgun accidently discharged on November 18, 2002. (Tr. 19, 181-82). He underwent multiples surgeries to reconstruct the foot, and later to remove hardware left in the foot from previous operations. (Tr. 19, 158-63). On March 14, 2006, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB, alleging that he was disabled due to his fused right foot and high blood pressure. (Tr. 93, 210). The application was initially denied. (Tr. 25-28). ALJ Robert Harvey held an administrative hearing on May 6, 2008, at which Plaintiff and his attorney appeared, and issued an unfavorable decision on July 11, 2008. (Tr. 207-46, 17-23). The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner on December 4, 2008, when the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (Tr. 6-8). On February 5, 2009, Plaintiff timely filed this action. (Plaintiff's Complaint).

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 DIB. 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). Consequently, the Commissioner moves for an order to affirm the decision pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. 405(g), which provides "[t]he court shall have the power to enter upon the pleadings and transcript of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying or reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding the cause for rehearing." A remand to the Commissioner for further development of the evidence under 42 U.S.C. 405(g) is appropriate 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). However, "where the existing Record contains persuasive proof of disability and a remand for further evidentiary proceedings would serve no further purpose, a remand for calculation of benefits is appropriate." White v. Comm. of Soc. Sec., 302 F.Supp.2d 170, 174 (W.D.N.Y. 2004).

II. The ALJ's Determination to Deny Plaintiff Benefits is not Supported by Substantial Evidence and Contains Errors of Law

In his decision, the ALJ applied the Social Security Administration's five-step sequential analysis.*fn1 At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since March 14, 2006. (Tr. 19). At step two, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff's shotgun wound to the right foot, status post right talonavicular cuneiform fusions with illiac crest bone graft, status post hardware removal from the right foot, arthritic right first metatarsal cuneiform joint, and right hindfoot arthodesis were severe within the meaning of the Act. Id. At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's impairments were not severe enough to medically meet or equal one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 20). At step four, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform sedentary work with additional limitations. Id. At step five, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was unable to perform his past relevant work, but could perform other jobs available in significant numbers in the economy. (Tr. 22-23). I do not pass on the merits of the ALJ's determination in steps one and two. However, I find that the ALJ failed to properly apply the correct legal standards in steps three and five. Accordingly, this case should be remanded for further proceedings consistent with this decision.

A. The ALJ Failed to Make Adequate Findings and Articulate Adequate Reasons to Support his Determination ...


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