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Noelle Holly Simmons v. Michael J. Astrue

July 13, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael A. Telesca United States District Judge



Plaintiff Noelle Holly Simmons ("Plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act, claiming that the Commissioner of Social Security improperly denied her application for disability insurance benefits. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that the decision of Administrative Law Judge Robert Gale ("ALJ") was erroneous and not supported by substantial evidence in the record.

The Commissioner moves for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, on the grounds that the ALJ's decision was supported by substantial evidence and contained no error of law. Plaintiff opposes the Commissioner's motion, and cross-moves for judgment on the pleadings. For the reasons set forth herein, I find that the decision of the Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence, and is in accordance with applicable law, and therefore, I grant the Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings, and deny Plaintiff's cross motion for judgment on the pleadings.


On May 11, 1995, Plaintiff, as a minor, was found disabled due to spinal muscular atrophy, and became eligible to receive Supplemental Security Income. (Tr. 28-29, 41-42). The Commissioner continued to find Plaintiff disabled in 1999 and 2003. (Tr. 30-31, 43-46). In 2008, Plaintiff's disability status was redetermined using the adult standard. (Tr. 32, 47-50). It was determined that Plaintiff was no longer eligible for Supplement Security Income. Id. Plaintiff appealed that decision, claiming she suffered spinal muscular atrophy and a learning disability, but a disability hearing officer found that Plaintiff was not disabled. (Tr. 53, 61-70, 601-03). Plaintiff requested a hearing which was held before ALJ Robert Gale on May 27, 2010. (Tr. 607). The ALJ considered the case de novo and on June 25, 2010, found Plaintiff not disabled under the Act. (Tr. 17-26). Plaintiff filed a request for review of the ALJ's decision which the Appeals Council denied on August 20, 2010, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 9-11). On September 27, 2010, Plaintiff timely filed this action.


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. Additionally, the section directs that 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, 217 (1938). Section 405(g) thus limits the Court's scope of review to determining whether or not the Commissioner's findings were supported by substantial evidence. See Mongeur v. Heckler, 722 F.2d 1033, 1038 (2d Cir. 1983) (finding that a reviewing Court does not try a benefits case de novo). The Court is also authorized to review the legal standards employed by the Commissioner in evaluating Plaintiff's claim.

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 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). 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).

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

The ALJ, in his decision, found that the Plaintiff's disability ended on December 12, 2008 and she had not become disabled since that date. (Tr. 26). In doing so, the ALJ followed the Social Security Administration's five-step sequential analysis for determining whether or not a clamant suffers from a disability. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520.*fn1

Step one of the analysis is not used for redetermining disability, therefore the ALJ began the analysis at step two. (Tr. 18). At step two the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff's spinal muscular atrophy and borderline intellectual functioning were severe. At step three, the ALJ concluded that these impairments did not meet or equal singly or in combination, any of the impairments listed in regulations Appendix 1. (Tr. 21). The ALJ also concluded that Plaintiff's headaches and asthma were non-severe impairments. (Tr. 19).

At step four the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff retained the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform light work with the exception that Plaintiff can lift and/or carry ten pounds occasionally and less than ten pounds frequently. (Tr. 22), See 20 C.F.R. ยง416.967(b). At step 5 the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff had no past relevant work. Therefore, in the fifth step, the ALJ considered Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity to determine whether or not Plaintiff could perform any job in the national economy. ...

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