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Tina M. Drennen v. Michael J. Astrue

January 9, 2012

TINA M. DRENNEN, 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 Tina Drennen ("Plaintiff") brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1383 (c)(3) and 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the Social Security Act ("the Act") seeking review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"), denying her application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI").

The Commissioner moves for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) ("Rule 12(c)") on the grounds that the Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ") decision was supported by substantial evidence. Plaintiff opposes the Commissioner's motion and cross-moves for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c), on grounds that the Commissioner's decision was erroneous and not supported by substantial evidence in the record. For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds that the decision of the Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence, and is in accordance with applicable law. Therefore the Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings is granted.

BACKGROUND

On April 28, 2006, Plaintiff protectively filed an application for SSI alleging disability beginning October 1, 2003. Plaintiff then filed a timely request for a hearing on September 11, 2006. On July 28, 2008, Plaintiff appeared at a video hearing before ALJ William R. Pietz. In a decision dated September 4, 2008, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had severe impairments, but that they were not of the severity to meet the criteria of any listed impairment. On December 2, 2009, the ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision after the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's Request for Review. Upon the denial by the Appeals Council, Plaintiff timely filed the instant action.

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. 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 substantial 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). If, after a review of the pleadings, the Court is convinced that Plaintiff has not plead a plausible claim for relief, judgment on the pleadings may be appropriate. See Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007).

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

In his decision, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. The ALJ adhered to the Social Security Administration's five-step sequential analysis in determining disability benefits. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. At Step One, the ALJ considers whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity. Step Two: If the claimant is not, the ALJ considers whether the claimant has severe impairment which significantly limits his physical or mental ability to do basic work activities. If the claimant suffers from an impairment that is listed in Appendix 1 of Subpart P of the Social Security Regulations, the claimant will be considered disabled without considering other factors. If the claimant does not have an impairment listed in Appendix 1, the ALJ will determine whether or not the claimant, despite his impairments, retains the residual functional capacity to perform his past work. Finally, if the claimant is unable to perform any past work, the ALJ will determine whether the claimant can perform other work in the local or national economy.

Here, under Step One, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the application date of April 28, 2006. (Transcript of Administrative Proceedings at 14 ("Tr."). At Steps Two and Three, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff's impairments, which include a depressive disorder, diabetes mellitus with diabetic neuropathy, mild degeneration in the knee, low back pain, obesity, and a history of drug and alcohol use/abuse in remission, were "severe" within the meaning of the Regulations. But Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal, either singly or in combination, any of the impairments listed in Appendix 1, Subpart P. (Tr. at 14).

Under Steps Four and Five, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform sedentary work within the meaning of the regulations with the following limitations: she can occasionally climb, squat, kneel, and crawl; she can follow simple instructions; she is unable to deal with the public, but can occasionally deal with supervisors and co-workers. (Tr. at 16). At Step Four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has no past relevant work. (Tr. at 21). At Step Five, considering the claimant's age, education, work experience, and ...


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