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Colon v. Astrue

July 23, 2010

JOSE LUIS COLON, 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 Jose Luis Colon ("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") John P. Costello 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, and made in accordance with applicable law. Plaintiff opposes the Commissioner's motion, and cross-moves for judgment on the pleadings, on the grounds that the Commissioner's decision was erroneous. For the reasons set forth below, I find that the record is incomplete with respect to plaintiff's claim of illiteracy, and that the ALJ failed to adequately explain his reasons for not giving controlling weight to the plaintiff's treating physician. Accordingly, I remand this case for further proceedings consistent with this Decision.

BACKGROUND

On September 14, 2007, Plaintiff, at the time a 47 year old unemployed man, filed an application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Title II of the Social Security Act ("the Act"). (r). 102)*fn1. Plaintiff claims a date of disability beginning on December 9, 2004. In a decision dated April 13, 2009, the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff was not disabled. 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 review on August 21, 2009. On October 19, 2009, Plaintiff filed this action pursuant to § 405(g) of the Act for review of the final decision of the Commissioner.

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 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). 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).

Because this Court determines that further development of the evidence is appropriate, and that the weight given to the opinion of Dr. Whitbeck should be re-evaluated, the Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings is denied and the case is remanded for further administrative proceedings in accordance with this decision.

II. There are Gaps in the Administrative Record Regarding Plaintiff's Alleged Illiteracy Which Require Further Administrative Proceedings

The ALJ determined that although Plaintiff had severe impairments, they did not amount to a listed impairment in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, App. 1 and, therefore, Plaintiff was not disabled. The ALJ then concluded that the Plaintiff retained the ...


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