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Shawna Bigler v. Michael Astrue

March 28, 2011

SHAWNA BIGLER PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael A. Telesca United States District Judge Dated: Rochester, New York

DECISION and ORDER

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff, Shawna Bigler ("Plaintiff"), brings this action pursuant to Title XVI of the Social Security Act, seeking review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"), denying her application for Supplemental Security Income("SSI"). Specifically, the Plaintiff alleges that the decision of the Administrative Law Judge, James E. Dombeck ("ALJ"), denying Plaintiff's application for benefits, was not supported by substantial evidence in the record and was contrary to the applicable legal standards.

The Commissioner moves for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12 (c) ("Rule 12 (c)"), on the grounds that the decision of the ALJ was supported by substantial evidence in the record. The Plaintiff opposes the Commissioner's motion, and cross-moves for judgment on the pleadings on the grounds that the ALJ's decision was not supported by substantial evidence. This court finds that the ALJ's decision was supported by substantial evidence in the record, and was in accordance with the applicable legal standards. 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. Plaintiff's complaint is dismissed with prejudice.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, a former housekeeper, fast food worker, and teacher's aide, filed an application for Supplemental Security Income under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, claiming disability due to myoclonic seizures and anxiety. Transcript of the Administrative Proceedings at 66-67, 253 (hereinafter "Tr."). Plaintiff's application was initially denied on July 27, 2006. Tr. at 184-87. Plaintiff filed a timely written request for a hearing, which was held on December 4, 2008 before ALJ James E. Dombeck. Tr. at 18-61, 180-81. Plaintiff appeared at the hearing, with counsel, and testified. Id.

In a decision dated January 22, 2009, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Tr. at 154-166. The Appeals Council then remanded the proceedings to ALJ James E. Dombeck to clarify the Plaintiff's occupational limitations through the testimony of an impartial vocational expert. Tr. at 199-200. In a decision dated September 17, 2009, the ALJ affirmed his prior decision and found that the testimony of the vocational expert confirmed that the Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Tr. at 129-139. Plaintiff sought further review by the Appeals Council on November 18, 2009. Tr. at 12-17. The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner on April 23, 2010, when the Appeals Council denied further review. Tr. at 8-10. Plaintiff then filed this action on June 18, 2010.

DISCUSSION

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 Social Security benefits. When considering these cases, this section directs the Court to accept the findings of fact made by the Commissioner, provided that such findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record. Substantial evidence is "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). The Court's scope of review is limited to whether or not the Commissioner's findings were supported by substantial evidence in the record, and whether the Commissioner employed the proper legal standards in evaluating the plaintiff's claim. See Monger v. Heckler, 722 F.2d 1033, 1038 (2d Cir. 1983) (finding a reviewing Court does not try a benefits case de novo). 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 asserts that the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence in the record and is in accordance with the applicable legal standards, and moves for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12 (c). 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. Sellers v. M.C. Floor Crafters, Inc., 842 F.2d 639 (2d Cir. 1988). If, after reviewing the record, 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). After reviewing the entire record, this Court finds that the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence in the record, and is in accordance with the applicable legal standards. Therefore, the Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings is granted, and the Plaintiff's motion is denied.

II. The Commissioner's decision to deny the Plaintiff benefits was supported by substantial evidence in the record.

The ALJ found that the Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Tr. at 138, 166. In his decision, the ALJ adhered to the required 5-step sequential analysis for evaluating Social Security disability benefits cases. Tr. at 129-139, 154-166. The 5-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 his 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 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).

In this case, the ALJ found that: (1) the Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 22, 2006; (2) the Plaintiff has the severe impairments: borderline intellectual functioning, seizure disorder, anxiety disorder, depressive disorder, personality disorder, and a history of excessive/exaggerated startled responses; (3) the Plaintiff's impairments do not meet or medically equal the listed impairments in Appendix 1, Subpart P, Regulation No. 4; (4) the Plaintiff can perform her past relevant work as a housekeeper; and (5) the Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity to perform light work involving simple one to two step tasks in a low stress environment with no exposure to hazards, heights or moving machinery. Tr. at 137-38. Therefore, the ALJ ...


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