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Tina Marie Jackson v. Michael Astrue

November 6, 2012

TINA MARIE JACKSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



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

DECISION and ORDER

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Tina Marie Jackson ("Plaintiff"), brings this action pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act ("the Act"), seeking review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"), denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB"). Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that the decision of the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), denying Plaintiff's application for benefits, did not give proper weight to Plaintiff's treating physician's opinions as to her disability. Plaintiff also argues that the ALJ failed to properly evaluate her credibility, and that the ALJ erred by relying upon the medical-vocational guidelines in determining that Plaintiff can perform alternative work.

The Commissioner 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 ALJ was supported by substantial evidence in the record and that Plaintiff was not disabled during the relevant period under review. Plaintiff opposes the Commissioner's motion, and cross-moves for reversal of the ALJ's decision on the grounds alleged above. For the reasons set forth herein, the Court finds that the Commissioner's decision that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act is not supported by substantial evidence in the record. Therefore, the Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings is denied. The case is reversed and remanded to the Commissioner for calculation and payment of benefits.

BACKGROUND

The Plaintiff filed an application for DIB under Title II of the Social Security Act on July 7, 2008, claiming a disability since August 1, 2007.*fn1 The application was initially denied on October 23, 2008. (Transcript of Administrative Proceedings ("Tr.") at 52-59). Plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing on December 15, 2008. (Tr. at 21).

Plaintiff appeared with counsel and testified at the hearing on March 9, 2010 before ALJ Mark Hecht, who presided via video teleconference. (Tr. at 32-48). In a decision dated March 16, 2010, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (Tr. at 18-28). The Appeals Council denied further review, and the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner on July 22, 2011. (Tr. at 1-5). Plaintiff then filed this action.

DISCUSSION

I. Jurisdiction and Scope of Review

Title 42 U.S.C.. § 405 (g) grants jurisdiction to district courts to hear claims based on the denial of Social Security benefits. When considering such claims, this section directs the Court to accept the findings of fact made by the Commissioner, provided that these findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record. Substantial evidence is "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) limits the Court's scope of review to determining whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence and whether the Commissioner employed the proper legal standards. See Monger v. Heckler, 722 F.2d 1033, 1038 (2d Cir. 1982) (finding that a reviewing court does not try a benefits case de novo). 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) (citing Simmons v. Harris, 602 F.2d 1233, 1236 (5th Cir. 1979)).

The Commissioner moves for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, asserting that his decision was reasonable and was supported by substantial evidence in the record. Rule 12(c) permits judgment on the pleadings 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, 642 (2d Cir. 1988) (citation omitted). In this case, this Court finds that there is sufficient evidence in the record for the Commissioner to find that Plaintiff is disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Therefore, Plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings is granted, and the Commissioner's motion is denied.

II. The Commissioner's decision to deny the Plaintiff benefits is not supported by substantial evidence in the record.

In his decision denying Plaintiff's application for benefits, the ALJ adhered to the five step sequential analysis for evaluating Social Security Disability benefits claims, which requires the ALJ to consider the following criteria:

(1) whether the claimant is engaged in any substantial gainful work activity;

(2) if not, whether the claimant has a severe impairment that significantly limits her ability to work;

(3) whether the claimant's impairment or combination of impairments meets or medically equals a listed impairment contained in Appendix 1, Subpart P, Regulation No. 4.

See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520 (a)(i)-(iv) and 416.920(a)(4)(i)-(iv). If so, claimant is considered disabled. See id. If not, the ALJ determines whether the impairment prevents the claimant from performing past relevant work; if the claimant has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to do her past work, she is not disabled. See id. Even if the claimant's impairments prevent her from doing past relevant work, if other work exists in significant numbers in the national economy that accommodates her RFC and vocational limitations, she is not disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520 (a)(i)-(iv) and 416.920(a)(4)(i)-(iv).

In this case, the ALJ found that (1) Plaintiff did not engage in substantial activity during the period from her alleged onset date of August 1, 2007 through her date last insured*fn2 of March 31, 2009;*fn3 (2) Plaintiff had a severe combination of impairments: cyclic vomiting syndrome, hypertension, neck impairment, and degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine; (3) Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1; (4) Plaintiff had ...


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