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Debra C. Kasmire v. Michael J. Astrue

June 28, 2011

DEBRA C. KASMIRE, 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 Debra C. Kasmire ("Plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act ("the Act"), claiming that the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") improperly denied her application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"). Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that the decision of Administrative Law Judge Marilyn Zahm ("ALJ") was against the weight of substantial evidence, was arbitrary and capricious, and contained errors of law. Plaintiff moves for a reversal of the final decision of the Commissioner or, in the alternative, a new hearing on the grounds that there is new and material evidence that should be considered by the Commissioner.

The Commissioner moves for a judgment affirming the ALJ's decision that Plaintiff was not eligible for DIB under the Act, because that decision was supported by substantial evidence in the record. For the reasons set forth herein, the final decision of the Commissioner is affirmed, the Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings is granted. Plaintiff's motion for reversal of the ALJ's decision is denied.

Plaintiff initially filed an application for DIB on April 30, 2001, claiming that she was disabled as of May 1, 1999. (Tr. 45-51) The Social Security Administration ("SSA") denied the claim on October 25, 2001. (Tr. 27-30).*fn1 Plaintiff then filed a request for a hearing by an ALJ. (Tr. 33). The hearing took place on July 17, 2003. (Tr. 653-97). At the hearing, Plaintiff, represented by her attorney Kenneth R. Hiller, Esq., presented testimony and amended her alleged disability onset date to April 1, 2001. Id. On October 15, 2003, ALJ Bruce R. Mazzarella found that Plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. 11-25). The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on March 8, 2004, and the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 6-8).

Plaintiff then filed a civil action with this Court on March 22, 2004. (04-CV-0185). By stipulation of the parties, this Court vacated the October 15, 2003 decision of the ALJ. (Tr. 425). The case was remanded for further proceedings on July 2, 2004. Id. Thereafter, the Appeals Council remanded the case to the ALJ for proceedings consistent with this Court's remand order. (Tr. 429-30).

A second administrative hearing took place on May 11, 2005, at which Plaintiff, again represented by her attorney, presented testimony. (Tr. 698-730). On June 1, 2005, ALJ Mazzarella reviewed the case de novo and found that Plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. 386-98). The Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ's determination on February 3, 2007, and accordingly, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 353-55).

Plaintiff filed another civil action with this Court on February 28, 2007. (07-CV-00114). On January 9, 2009, the case was again remanded by this Court for more detailed consideration of the opinions of Plaintiff's treating physician and Plaintiff herself. (Tr. 797-804). On January 13, the Appeals Council issued an order vacating the final decision of the Commissioner and remanding the case to an ALJ. (Tr. 836-39).

On April 27, 2009, a third administrative hearing was held before ALJ Marilyn Zahm, where Plaintiff again appeared with her attorney and provided testimony. (Tr. 731-62). After reviewing the case de novo, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff did not suffer from a disability as defined under the Act. (Tr. 763-82). No written exceptions were filed and the Appeals Council did not review the case. On May 6, 2009, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. Plaintiff then timely filed this action on August 6, 2009.

Discussion

I. Jurisdiction and Scope of Review

Title 42, Section 405(g) of the United States Code grants this Court the power to review the decision of the Commissioner and, if appropriate, remand the matter for further proceedings. See Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 320, 96 S.Ct. 893, 47 L.Ed.2d 18 (1976). Section 405(g) additionally directs this Court to accept the Commissioner's findings of fact so long as they are supported by substantial evidence in the record. See Bubnis v. Apfel, 150 F.3d 177, 181 (2d Cir. 1998); see also Williams v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 2007 U.S.App. LEXIS 9396 at *3 (2d Cir. 2007). "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). 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). Section 405(g) thus limits the Court's review to two inquiries: (1) whether the Commissioner's decision was supported by substantial evidence in the record and, (2) whether the Commissioner's decision was based upon an erroneous legal standard. See Green-Younger v. Barnhart, 335 F.3d 99, 105-06 (2d Cir. 2003). Under section 405(g), this Court's review of the Commissioner's decision is not de novo, and is limited to an inquiry as to whether the Commissioner's decision was supported by substantial evidence. See Wagner v. Secretary of Health & Human Serv., 906 F.2d 856, 860 (2d Cir. 1990).

Both Plaintiff and Commissioner move for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Section 405(g) states that, "[t]he 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." Under Rule 12(c), "[j]udgment on the pleadings is appropriate where material facts are undisputed and where a judgment on the merits is possible merely by considering the contents of the pleadings." See Sellers v. M.C. Floor Crafters, Inc., 842 F.2d 639, 642 (2d Cir. 1988) (citing National Fidelity Life Ins. Co. v. Karaganis, 811 F.2d 357, 358 (7th Cir. 1987)). Remand to the Commissioner ...


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