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Searles v. Astrue

July 27, 2010


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



Plaintiff Margie Searles-Campell ("Plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to Title II and Title XVI of the Social Security Act ("the Act"), claiming that the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") improperly denied her application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplement security income benefits ("SSI") Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that the decision of Administrative Law Judge Barry Ryan ("ALJ") was erroneous and not supported by substantial evidence in the record.

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.


On May 6, 2005, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB and SSI, alleging that she became disabled on January 6, 2005, due to swelling of her brain that caused memory loss and problems with equilibrium. (Tr. 59-64, 70, 325-28). Plaintiff's claim was initially denied by the Social Security Administration. (Tr. 46-50). On March 27, 2008, ALJ Barry Ryan held an administrative hearing at which Plaintiff appeared with her representative Hailey Foglietta. (Tr. 365-97). The ALJ issued a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled within the meaning of the Act on May 1, 2008. (Tr. 365-97). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on February 11, 2009. (Tr. 5-8). On March 10, 2009, Plaintiff timely filed this action. (Plaintiff's Complaint).


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 Commissioner's Decision To Deny The 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 Under step one of the process, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date of January 6, 2005. (Tr. 16). At steps two and three, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff's neurological disorder and obesity were severe within the meaning of the Social Security Regulations, but not severe enough to meet or equal singly or in combination, any of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Id. Plaintiff's depression, sleep apnea, fibromyalgia, ankle, shoulder, knee, and back impairments were not severe. (Tr. 17-19).

At step four, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform unskilled, light work with non-exertional limitations. (Tr. 20, 25-6). The ALJ found that Plaintiff was incapable of performing her past relevant work as an information services technician, assistant secretary, receptionist, and food processor. (Tr. 25). In the fifth step, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had the RFC to perform competitive, remunerative unskilled work. (Tr. 25). I find that the ALJ failed to properly apply the correct legal standards in ...

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