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Douglass v. Astrue

July 30, 2010

ROBERT DOUGLASS, 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 Robert Douglass ("Plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to Title XVI of the Social Security Act ("the Act"), seeking review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"), claiming that the Commissioner incorrectly terminated Plaintiff's Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that the decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") John P. Costello, which discontinued Plaintiff's SSI benefits, was erroneous and contrary to law as it was not supported by substantial evidence within 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 denied and the Commissioner's decision is affirmed.

BACKGROUND

On January 8, 1985 Plaintiff was awarded SSI benefits, pursuant to an application that was submitted on behalf of the Plaintiff on December 27, 1984. (R. 61)*fn1 . Plaintiff began receiving SSI because it was determined by the Commissioner that his bronchial asthma and cardiac defect were functionally equivalent to a listed impairment.

In March of 2000, Plaintiff was notified that his case would be subject to an age 18 redetermination pursuant to 20 C.F.R. §416.987. Applying the adult disability criteria, the Commissioner found that the Plaintiff continued his disability as a result of his mental and physical impairments. (R. 62, 143-158, 594-606, 613-616).

However, after a continuing disability review, Plaintiff received a notice dated August 30, 2004 indicating that his benefits would be terminated as of October 2004 because he was no longer considered disabled. (R. 63-64, 66-69). In response to Plaintiff's SSI termination, he filed a request for reconsideration which was denied on October 6, 2004, and again denied by a Disability Hearing Officer on December 29, 2004. (R. 75-87).

Plaintiff then proceeded to make a timely request for a hearing, which was held on May 21, 2007 before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") John P. Costello. On August 8, 2007, the ALJ issued his decision finding that Plaintiff's condition had improved and therefore her was no longer qualified for SSI benefits. (R. 677-682, 42-53). Plaintiff then made a timely request for review to the Appeals Council, where additional medical records were submitted related to Plaintiff's current impairments. (R. 22-28, 56-60). The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Social Security Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on March 27, 2009. (R. 29-33). This action followed.

DISCUSSION

I. APPLICABLE LEGAL STANDARDS OF REVIEW

A. Jurisdiction and Scope 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 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). Defendant asserts that the ALJ's decision was reasonable and is supported by the evidence in the record, and moves for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Under Rule 12(c), judgment on the pleadings may be granted where the material facts are undisputed and where judgment on the ...


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