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Zelma D. King v. Michael J. Astrue

January 26, 2012

ZELMA D. KING, 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 Zelma King("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 herein, the Court finds that the record does not contain substantial evidence of a medical improvement to support the Commissioner's decision to deny Plaintiff a closed period of disability benefits. Therefore the Plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings is granted.

BACKGROUND

On September 14, 2006, Plaintiff protectively filed an application for SSI alleging disability beginning August 30, 2005. Her claim was denied on March 5, 2007. Plaintiff then filed a timely request for a hearing. On November 20, 2008, Plaintiff appeared at a video hearing before ALJ Theresa C Timlin. In a decision dated April 23, 2009, the ALJ determined that from August 30, 2005 through September 30, 2008, Plaintiff had been disabled. The ALJ also determined that as of October 1, 2008, medical improvement occurred and Plaintiff was no longer disabled. On February 17, 2010, the ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision after the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. On June 4, 2009, Plaintiff filed a second application for SSI benefits. Based on that second filing, Plaintiff was found to be disabled and as of June 4, 2009 is currently receiving SSI benefits. On April 19, 2010, Plaintiff filed the instant action. The issue before the Court is whether Plaintiff was disabled between October 1, 2008, the date a medical improvement was found, and June 4, 2009.

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

In her decision, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was disabled within the meaning of the Act from August 30, 2005 through September 30, 2008, but that Plaintiff experienced a medical improvement starting October 1, 2008 and was no longer disabled as of that date. The ALJ adhered to the Social Security Administration's five-step sequential analysis in determining disability benefits. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520.*fn1

Here, at Step One, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity from August 30, 2005 through September 30, 2008. (Transcript of Administrative Proceedings at 12) ("Tr."). At Steps Two and Three, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff's impairments, which include low back pain and major depressive disorder, were "severe" within the meaning of the Regulations. However, the ALJ concluded that 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 12).

Under Steps Four and Five, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had the RFC to perform sedentary work but had the following limitations: she could not lift or carry more than 10 pounds on occasion and less than 10 pounds frequently, stand and walk for more than two hours in an eight hour day and could sit for less than six hours provided she could alternate between sitting and standing, she was unable to concentrate for an hour at a time, and could not complete a work week without interference from her psychotic symptoms.(Tr. at 12). At Step Four, the ALJ found Plaintiff was unable to perform any of her past relevant work as an assembly line worker. (Tr. at 14). At Step Five, considering Plaintiff's ...


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