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Warren v. Astrue

July 27, 2010

JEFFERY WARREN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



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

DECISION and ORDER

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Jeffery Warren ("Plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to the Social Security Act (codified in relevant parts at 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3)), seeking review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"), denying his application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental security income ("SSI").*fn1 Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that the decision of Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Lamar W. Davis denying his application for benefits was contrary to applicable legal standards and was not supported by substantial evidence contained in the record. Plaintiff requests that the Court reverse the judgment of the Commissioner and remand for calculation of benefits, or in the alternative, for the application of proper legal standards.

The Commissioner moves for judgment on the pleadings on the grounds that the ALJ's decision was correct as it was supported by substantial evidence. The Plaintiff cross-moves for judgment on the pleadings and opposes the Commissioner's motion. For the reasons set forth below, I find that the Commissioner's decision was contrary to applicable legal standards and not supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole. I hereby deny the Defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings, grant the Plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings and remand this claim to the Commissioner for further proceedings consistent with this decision: calculation and payment of benefits.

BACKGROUND

On April 22, 2005, Plaintiff filed a Title II application for a period of disability and disability benefits and protectively filed a Title XVI application for supplemental security income, alleging disability beginning June 1, 2001. (T. 100-102). These claims were initially denied on October 20, 2005, and upon reconsideration on July 28, 2006. (T. 31-35, 73-76, 85-88). Thereafter, the Plaintiff timely filed a written request for hearing on September 15, 2006. (T. 69-71). On September 19, 2008, the ALJ held a video hearing in Buffalo, NY. (T. 494-514). The Plaintiff and his attorney appeared in Rochester, NY. Id. Julie Andrews, a vocational expert ("VE") was also present. Id.

In a decision dated November 25, 2008, ALJ Lamar W. Davis found that the Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act ("the Act"). (T. 18-30). The Appeals Council denied review on March 26, 2009, rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (T. 2-4). The Plaintiff subsequently filed this action on April 29, 2009.

DISCUSSION

I. Jurisdiction and Scope of Review

Title 42, Section 405(g) of the United States Code grants jurisdiction to Federal District Courts to hear claims based on the denial of Social Security benefits. See Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 320 (1976). In addition, Section 405(g) directs that the District Court must accept the Commissioner's findings of fact if those findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record. See Bubnis v. Apfel, 150 F.3d 177, 181 (2d Cir. 1998); see also Williams v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 2007 U.S. App. LEXIS 9396, at *3 (2d Cir. 2007). Substantial evidence is defined as "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." See Metropolitan Stevedore Co. v. Rambo, 521 U.S. 121, 149 (1997) (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). 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). Section 405(g) thus limits this Court's scope of review to two inquiries: (I) whether the Commissioner's conclusions are supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole, and (ii) whether the Commissioner's conclusions are based upon an erroneous legal standard. See Green-Younger v. Barnhart, 335 F.3d 99, 105-06 (2d Cir. 2003); see also Wagner v. Secretary of Health & Human Serv., 906 F.2d 856, 860 (2d Cir. 1990) (holding that review of the Secretary's decision is not de novo and that the Secretary's findings are conclusive if supported by substantial evidence).

Both Plaintiff and Defendant move for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 405(g) and Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Section 405(g) provides that the District Court "shall have 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 a rehearing." 42 U.S.C.S. § 405(g) (2007). 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. See Sellers v. M.C. Floor Crafters, Inc., 842 F.2d 639, 642 (2d Cir. 1988). A District Court should order payment of SSI benefits in cases where the record contains persuasive proof of disability and remand for further evidence would serve no purpose. See Carroll v. Secretary of Health and Human Serv., 705 F.2d 638, 644 (2d Cir. 1981). The goal of this policy is "to shorten the often painfully slow process by which disability determinations are made." Id. Because this court finds that (1) the ALJ's decision was not supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole, and (2) the record contains substantial evidence of disability, judgment on the pleadings is granted for the Plaintiff.

II. The ALJ's determination that the Plaintiff is not disabled is not supported by substantial evidence and contains errors of law.

In finding that the Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act, the ALJ adhered to the Social Security Administration's five-step sequential analysis for evaluating applications and determining whether an individual is disabled. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520 and 416.920(a)(4)(i)-(v)(2009).*fn2 Under step one of that process, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff had not been engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 1, 2001, the alleged onset date. (T. 23). At step two, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff's impairment, major depressive disorder, was severe within the meaning of the Regulations. (T. 23) The ALJ also considered the Plaintiff's back injury, tendonitis of the left elbow, and history of alcohol and marijuana abuse but determined them "non-severe."*fn3 (T. 23-24). At step three, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals, either singly or in combination, any of the impairments listed in Appendix 1, Subpart P of Regulations No. 4. (T. 16-18). At step four, the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work, yet he had "the residual functional capacity to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following non-exertional limitations: the claimant should not be exposed to work-place hazards such as unprotected heights or dangerous machinery; the claimant c[ould] perform simple, routine, repetitive tasks involving independent judgment or discretion and changes in work process on an incidental basis (one-sixth of a routine eight-hour workshift). He [wa]s limited to no contact with the general public and c[ould] perform piece work at production rate paces." (T. 25-28).

For step five of the analysis, the ALJ "asked a vocational expert whether jobs exist in the national economy for an individual with the claimant's age, education, work experience and residual functional capacity." (T. 28-29). The ALJ determined based on VE Andrew's testimony that jobs exist[ed] in the national ...


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