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Marc Jaskiewicz v. Commissioner of Social Security

December 10, 2010

MARC JASKIEWICZ, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: David N. Hurd United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM-DECISION and ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter is brought pursuant to § 205(g) of the Social Security Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to review a final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security denying the plaintiff's claim for Social Security Disability benefits. The parties have filed their briefs, including the Administrative Record on Appeal, and the matter has been submitted for decision without oral argument.

II. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Marc Jaskiewicz ("plaintiff" or "Jaskiewicz") filed an application for Social Security Disability benefits on November 26, 2003, claiming a period of disability beginning on December 31, 1997. His claim was denied on March 9, 2004.

Plaintiff filed a second application for disability benefits on June 29, 2004. That application was denied on November 17, 2004. He filed a request for a hearing on December 3, 2004. At the initial hearing on April 14, 2005, the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") deemed the claim abandoned when the plaintiff failed to appear.

A second hearing was held on July 14, 2005. The ALJ rendered a decision on September 22, 2005, denying plaintiff's claim. Plaintiff appealed the ALJ's decision to the Appeals Council. On March 6, 2006, the Appeals Council issued an order remanding to the ALJ for further evaluation of plaintiff's mental impairments; for consideration of plaintiff's maximum Residual Functional Capacity ("RFC"), particularly regarding his drug and alcohol abuse; to obtain evidence from a vocational expert clarifying the effect on plaintiff's occupational base; and, if Jaskiewicz was found disabled, to determine whether drug addiction and alcoholism are contributing factors material to that finding.

A third hearing was held on July 19, 2007. In a decision issued on October 26, 2007, the ALJ again found plaintiff "not disabled." Plaintiff again appealed. The Appeals Council declined further review of the ALJ's decision. Thus, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. Plaintiff filed the instant complaint in the district court on April 8, 2008.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Standard of Review

The scope of a court's review of the Commissioner's final decision is limited to determinating whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence and the correct legal standards were applied. Poupore v. Astrue, 566 F.3d 303, 305 (2d Cir. 2009) (per curiam) (citing Machadio v. Apfel, 276 F.3d 103, 108 (2d Cir. 2002); Martone v. Apfel, 70 F. Supp. 2d 145, 148 (N.D.N.Y. 1999) (citing Johnson v. Bowen, 817 F.2d 983, 985 (2d Cir. 1987)). "Substantial evidence means 'more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'" Poupore, 566 F.3d at 305 (quoting Consol. Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229, 59 S. Ct. 206, 217 (1938)). "To determine on appeal whether an ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence, a reviewing court considers the whole record, examining the evidence from both sides, because an analysis of the substantiality of the evidence must also include that which detracts from its weight." Williams v. Bowen, 859 F.2d 255, 258 (2d Cir. 1988) (citing Universal Camera Corp. v. NLRB, 340 U.S. 474, 488, 71 S. Ct. 456, 464 (1951)). If the Commissioner's disability determination is supported by substantial evidence, that determination is conclusive. Id.

However, "where there is a reasonable basis for doubting whether the Commissioner applied the appropriate legal standards," the decision should not be affirmed even though the ultimate conclusion reached is arguably supported by substantial evidence. Martone, 70 F. Supp. 2d at 148 (citing Johnson, 817 F.2d at 986).

A reviewing court may enter "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. § 405(g); see Martone, 70 F. Supp. 2d at 148. "Remand is appropriate where there are gaps in the record or further development of the evidence is needed," such as where new, material evidence has become available. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Martone, 70 F. Supp. 2d at 148 (citing Parker v. Harris, 626 F.2d 225, 235 (2d Cir. 1980)). A remand for rehearing directing the taking of additional evidence is warranted only if it is shown that there is new, material evidence "and that there is good cause for the failure to incorporate such evidence into the record" at the administrative hearing. Carroll v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 705 F.2d 638, 643--44 (2d Cir. 1983) (quoting 42 U.S.C. ยง 405(g), as amended in 1980). Remand may also be appropriate if the Commissioner "misapplies the law or failed to provide a fair hearing." Id. at 644. However, where the underlying administrative decision is not supported by substantial evidence, reversal is appropriate because there would be no useful purpose in remanding the matter for further proceedings. Id. (reversing and remanding solely for calculation of ...


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