United States District Court, W.D. New York
Decided February 12, 2014
For Kenneth W. Chaffin, formerly known as Kenneth W. Beaver, Plaintiff: Lewis L. Schwartz, LEAD ATTORNEY, Myers Quinn & Schwartz LLP, Buffalo, NY.
For Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant: Mary Pat Fleming, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. Attorney's Office, Buffalo, NY.
JOHN T. CURTIN, United States District Judge.
Plaintiff Kenneth Chaffin initiated this action pursuant to Section 405(g) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to review the final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security (the " Commissioner" ) denying plaintiff's application for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits (" DIB" ) and Supplemental Security Income (" SSI" ). The Commissioner has filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (Item 7) and plaintiff has filed a cross motion requesting the same relief (Item 9). For the following reasons, the Commissioner's motion is denied and plaintiff's cross motion is granted.
Plaintiff was born on March 8, 1975 (Tr. 147 ). He applied for DIB and SSI benefits on April 20, 2009, alleging disability as of February 18, 2009 due to mental impairments and an ankle injury (Tr. 168). Plaintiff's application was denied on November 13, 2009 (Tr. 77-82). Plaintiff
then requested a hearing, which was held on February 9, 2011 before Administrative Law Judge (" ALJ" ) Scott Staller (Tr. 45-71). Plaintiff testified at the hearing and was represented by counsel.
By decision dated March 9, 2011, the ALJ found that plaintiff was not under a disability within the meaning of the Social Security Act (Tr. 12-24). The ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final determination when the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review (Tr. 1-4).
Plaintiff then filed this action on August 20, 2012, pursuant to the judicial review provision of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). On March 6, 2013, the Commissioner filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings on the ground that the ALJ's determination must be upheld because it is supported by substantial evidence in the record ( see Item 7). Plaintiff cross-moved for judgment on the pleadings, arguing that the ALJ erred in not finding him disabled (Item 9). The Commissioner filed a response on April 8, 2013 (Item 13), and plaintiff filed a reply on April 25, 2013 (Item 14).
I. Scope of Judicial Review
The Social Security Act states that upon district court review of the Commissioner's decision, " the findings of the Commissioner . . . as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive . . . ." 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence is defined as evidence which " a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229, 59 S.Ct. 206, 83 L.Ed. 126 (1938), quoted in Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971); see also Tejada v. Apfel, 167 F.3d 770, 773-72 (2d Cir. 1999). Under these standards, the scope of judicial review of the Commissioner's decision is limited, and the reviewing court may not try a case de novo or substitute its findings for those of the Commissioner. Richardson, 402 U.S. at 401. The court's inquiry is " whether the record, read as a whole, yields such evidence as would allow a reasonable mind to accept the conclusions reached" by the Commissioner. Sample v. Schweiker, 694 F.2d 639, 642 (9th Cir. 1982), quoted in Winkelsas v. Apfel, 2000 WL 575513, at *2 (W.D.N.Y. February 14, 2000).
However, " [b]efore the insulation of the substantial evidence test comes into play, it must first be determined that the facts of a particular case have been evaluated in light of correct legal standards." Klofta v. Mathews, 418 F.Supp. 1139, 1141 (E.D. Wis. 1976), quoted in Gartmann v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 633 F.Supp. 671, 680 (E.D.N.Y. 1986). The Commissioner's determination cannot be upheld when it is based on an ...