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Felicia M.Taylor v. Michael Astrue

February 3, 2011

FELICIA M.TAYLOR, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL 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, Felicia M. Taylor("Plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking review of a final decision by the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"). Plaintiff applied for DIB and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits under Title II and Tile XVI of the Social Security Act ("the Act") for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits, alleging disability beginning September 30, 2006. Plaintiff moves for judgment on the pleadings alleging that the decision of the Administrative Law Judge, John P. Costello ("ALJ"), that the Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of Act, was not supported by substantial evidence in the record and was contrary to applicable law. The Plaintiff asserts that, for the aforementioned reasons, the ALJ's decisions should be reversed.

The Commissioner moves for judgment on the pleadings claiming that the decision of the ALJ is supported by substantial evidence in the record and should be affirmed. After reviewing the entire record, this Court finds that the decision of the Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence in the record. Therefore, for the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings is granted, and the Plaintiff's motion is denied.

BACKGROUND

On November 20, 2007, Plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI benefits alleging disability due to a seizure disorder, asthma, a lumbar spine disorder, and depression. Plaintiff was born May 15, 1977. Plaintiff completed one year of college and previously worked as a mail clerk.

Plaintiff's applications for DIB and SSI benefits were denied. Plaintiff timely filed a request for a hearing before an ALJ, and she appeared, with counsel, before ALJ John P. Costello on August 7, 2008. In a decision dated June 29, 2009, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. This decision became final when the Appeals Council denied review on February 2, 2010. Plaintiff then filed this action seeking review of the Commissioner's decision with respect to her DIB claim. Plaintiff did not timely seek review of her SSI claim. The issue is whether the claimant is disabled under § 216 (I) and § 223(d) of the Act.

DISCUSSION

42 U.S.C. § 405(g) grants jurisdiction to district courts to hear claims based on the denial of Social Security benefits. Matthews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 320 (1976). When considering such a claim, 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).

While the court must act as "more than an uncritical rubber stamp," it must not "decide the facts anew, reweigh the evidence, or substitute its own judgment for that of the [Commissioner]." Delgado v. Bowen, 782 F.2d 79, 82 (7th Cir. 1986); Sitarek v. Shalala, 92-CV-641S, 1994 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5851 (W.D.N.Y. April 21, 1994). The Commissioner's findings are not subject to reversal merely because two inconsistent conclusions could be drawn from the evidence, so long as his particular finding is supported by substantial evidence. See, e.g., NLRB v. Columbian Enameling & Stamping Co., 306 U.S. 292, 299-300 (1939); Walker v. Bowen, 834 F.2d 635, 640 (7th Cir. 1987)("where conflicting evidence allows reasonable minds to differ as to whether a claimant is disabled, the responsibility for that decision falls on the Secretary").

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). The Commissioner contends that his 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. Judgment on the pleadings may be granted under Rule 12(c) where the material facts are undisputed and where judgment on the merits is possible merely by considering the contents of the pleadings. Sellers v. M.C. Floor Crafters, Inc., 842 F.2d 639 (2d Cir. 1988). If, after a review of the pleadings, the court is convinced that the Plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief, judgment on the pleadings may be appropriate. See, Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957).

The Act defines a disability as the "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months..." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). An individual will only be considered "under a disability" if his impairment is so severe that he is both unable to do his previous work and unable to engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work that exists in the national economy. §§ 423(d)(2)(A).

In his decision, the ALJ followed the required five-step analysis for evaluating disability claims. (Transcript 10-16) (hereinafter "Tr."). The five-step analysis requires the ALJ to consider the following:

(1) Whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity;

(2) if not, whether the claimant has a severe impairment which significantly limits her physical or mental ability to do basic work activities;

(3) if the claimant suffers a severe impairment, the ALJ considers whether the claimant has an impairment which is listed in Appendix 1, Subpart P, Regulation No. 4, if so, the claimant is presumed disabled;

(4) if not, the ALJ considers whether the impairment prevents the claimant from doing past relevant work;

(5) if the claimant's impairments prevent her from doing past relevant work, if other work exists in significant numbers in the national economy that accommodate the claimant's residual functional capacity ("RFC") and vocational factors, the claimant is not disabled.

20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v) and 416.920(a)(4)(i)-(v). Here, the ALJ found that (1) the Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since September 30, 2006, the alleged onset date;

(2) the Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: seizure disorder, lumbar spine disorder, and depression; (3) these impairments either singularly or combined do not meet or medically equal one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, subpart P, Appendix 1; and (4) the Plaintiff can perform her past relevant work as a mail clerk. Because there were questions regarding whether Plaintiff worked as a mail clerk at the substantial gainful activity level, the ALJ proceeded to step five. A vocational expert ("VE") testified that based on Plaintiff's past work history and her alleged impairments, she was able to perform other work existing in the national economy. The ALJ thus determined that Plaintiff had the RFC to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b)and § 416.967(b) with the following limitations: Plaintiff must avoid operating motor vehicles, working ...


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