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Brian Bohart v. Michael J. Astrue

June 23, 2011

BRIAN BOHART, 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 Brian Bohart ("Plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act ("the Act") claiming that the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") improperly denied Plaintiff both Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI").

Plaintiff 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 Administrative Law Judge, F. Patrick Flanagan ("ALJ"), was not supported by substantial evidence in the record. The Commissioner cross-moves for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) on the grounds that the ALJ's decision was grounded in substantial evidence and was based on the correct legal standards.

For the reasons set forth herein, I find that the decision of the Commissioner is not supported by substantial evidence in the record and is contrary to the applicable legal standards. I therefore deny the Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings, grant Plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings, and remand this claim to the Commissioner for further proceedings consistent with this decision.

Background

On June 8, 2007, Plaintiff filed a Title II application for a period of disability and DIB. Plaintiff also filed a Title XVI application for SSI on the same date. In both applications, Plaintiff alleged a disability beginning on January 15, 2006, due to complications from mesenchymal chondrosarcoma, right shoulder, and herniated discs in his neck with pinched nerves. (Tr. at 125).*fn1 Plaintiff's claims were initially denied on September 10, 2007. Thereafter, Plaintiff filed a written request for a hearing on October 24, 2007. The Plaintiff appeared and testified at a hearing held on September 16, 2009 in Corning, NY. Katie Bohart, Plaintiff's wife, and Peter Gordon, Esq., Plaintiff's attorney, both appeared at the hearing.

In a decision dated October 7, 2009, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was "disabled" within the meaning of the Social Security Act from January 15, 2006 through September 29, 2008. However, beginning September 30, 2008, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff experienced medical improvement related to his ability to work, and found that Plaintiff has been able to perform substantial gainful activity from September 30, 2008 through the date of the decision. The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner when the Social Security Appeals Council denied review on July 6, 2010. On July 29, 2010, Plaintiff filed this action.

Discussion

1. Jurisdiction and Scope of Review

42 U.S.C. § 405(g) grants jurisdiction to district courts to review claims based on the denial of Social Security benefits. Matthews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 320, 96 S.Ct. 893, 47 L.Ed.2d 18 (1976). The section directs the district 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 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, 217 (1938). Section 405(g) therefore limits this Court's review to two main inquiries: (i) whether the Commissioner's conclusions are supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole, and (ii) whether the Commissioner's conclusions are based upon an erroneous legal standard. Green-Younger v. Barnhart, 335 F.3d 99, 105-06 (2d Cir. 2003).

Plaintiff and the Commissioner both move for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c). Section 405(g) states that the district court "shall have 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 a rehearing." 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2009). Judgment on the pleadings may be granted under Rule 12(c) where the material facts are not in dispute and where judgment on the merits is possible given the contents of the pleadings. Sellers v. M.C. Floor Crafters, Inc., 842 F.2d 639, 642 (2d Cir. 1988). If, after reviewing the record, the Court is convinced that Plaintiff has not set forth a plausible claim for relief, judgment on the pleadings may be appropriate. See Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). A district court can order payment of Social Security disability benefits when the record contains persuasive proof of disability and remand for additional evidentiary proceedings would serve no further purpose. See Carroll v. Secretary of Health and Human Serv., 705 F.2d 638, 644 (2d Cir. 1981).

After reviewing the entire record, this Court finds that the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence and is not in accordance with the appropriate legal standards. This Court further finds that there is substantial evidence in the record to support Plaintiff's claim for DIB and SSI. Therefore, the Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings is denied, Plaintiff's motion is granted and the Court remands the claim to the Commissioner for further proceedings consistent with this decision.

II. Standard for Entitlement to Benefits

A disability, under the Social Security Act, is defined as the "inability to engage in substantial gainful activity by reason of a medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be ...


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