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James v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, E.D. New York

September 24, 2014

CHARLES JAMES, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

PAMELA K. CHEN, District Judge.

Plaintiff Charles James, Jr., proceeding pro se, brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking judicial review of the Social Security Administration's denial of his claim for social security disability insurance benefits. (Dkt. 1.) Pending before the Court is the unopposed motion of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure ("FRCP") 12(c). (Dkt. 12-14.) For the reasons stated below, the Commissioner's motion is granted, and Plaintiff's complaint is dismissed with prejudice.

BACKGROUND

Because the Commissioner's motion is unopposed, the Court adopts the facts set forth in the Commissioner's moving brief as if set forth fully herein. (Dkt. 13 at 2-8 (setting forth relevant non-medical and medical evidence); see also Dkt. 7 Administrative Record ("Record") at 14); Jackson v. Fed. Exp., ___ F.3d ___, 2014 WL 4412333, at *6 (2d Cir. Sept. 9, 2014) (noting that in the case of an unopposed motion, "there is no need for a district court to robotically replicate the defendant-movant's statement of undisputed facts and references to the record or otherwise serve as an assistant to our law clerks") (citing Miranda v. Bennett, 322 F.3d 171, 175, 177 (2d Cir. 2003)).[1] Though an unopposed motion for judgment on the pleadings "allow[s] the district court to accept the movant's factual assertions as true, " Vt. Teddy Bear Co. v. 1-800 Beargram Co., 373 F.3d 241, 246 (2d Cir. 2004), the Court has independently reviewed the record in order to "determine from what it has before it whether the moving party is entitled to [] judgment [on the pleadings] as a matter of law." McDowell v. Commissioner of Soc. Sec., 2010 WL 5026745, at *1 (E.D.N.Y. Dec. 3, 2010) (quoting Vt. Teddy Bear Co., 373 F.3d at 246) (internal quotation marks omitted).

As for the procedural history giving rise to this matter, on January 5, 2010, Plaintiff filed an application for supplemental security income ("disability benefits"), which was denied. (Record at 14.) Plaintiff requested a hearing, which was held on November 16, 2010, at which Plaintiff testified and represented himself without an attorney. (Record at 14.) Subsequent to the hearing, Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Jerome Hornblass issued a written decision, dated December 15, 2010, in which he denied Plaintiff's application for disability benefits on the basis that Plaintiff is not disabled under Section 1614(a)(3)(A) of the Social Security Act ("Act"). (Record at 19.) Plaintiff's petition for judicial review of the Commissioner's decision followed on April 24, 2013. (Dkt. 1.)

STANDARD OF REVIEW

I. FRCP 12(c)

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) provides that "[a]fter the pleadings are closed-but early enough not to delay trial-a party may move for judgment on the pleadings." FRCP 12(c). The legal standards applicable to a FRCP 12(c) motion are the same as those applied to a FRCP 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. Bank of New York v. First Millennium, Inc., 607 F.3d 905, 922 (2d Cir. 2010). To survive a FRCP 12(b)(6) motion, "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal quotation marks omitted). In evaluating a FRCP 12(b)(6) motion, the Court must accept all well-pleaded factual allegations of the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party, here, Plaintiff. Id. at 679.

Even when a motion for judgment on the pleadings is unopposed, "[w]here... the pleadings are themselves sufficient to withstand dismissal, a failure to respond to a 12(c) motion cannot constitute default' justifying dismissal of the complaint." McCall v. Pataki, 232 F.3d 321, 322 (2d Cir. 2000). As with unopposed motions for summary judgment pursuant to FRCP 56, when a FRCP 12(c) motion is unopposed, the Court must review the record to determine whether the moving party has established entitlement to judgment as a matter of law. See Vt. Teddy Bear Co., 373 F.3d 241 at 246. In addition, where a plaintiff proceeds pro se, the Court must construe the pleadings liberally and interpret them to raise the strongest arguments they suggest. Sykes v. Bank of Am., 723 F.3d 399, 403 (2d Cir. 2013); Triestman v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 470 F.3d 471, 472 (2d Cir. 2006).

II. Review of Administrative Decisions

In reviewing a final decision of the Commissioner, the Court's duty is to determine whether it is based upon correct legal standards and principles and whether it is supported by substantial evidence in the record, taken as a whole. See Talavera v. Astrue, 697 F.3d 145, 151 (2d Cir. 2012) (the Court "is limited to determining whether the [Social Security Administration's] conclusions were supported by substantial evidence in the record and were based on a correct legal standard"). "Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'" Selian v. Astrue, 708 F.3d 409, 417 (2d Cir. 2013) (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)) (alterations and internal quotation marks omitted). In determining whether the Commissioner's findings were based upon substantial evidence, "the reviewing court is required to examine the entire record, including contradictory evidence and evidence from which conflicting inferences can be drawn.'" Id. (quoting Mongeur v. Heckler, 722 F.2d 1033, 1038 (2d Cir. 1983)). However, the Court is mindful that "it is up to the agency, and not this court, to weigh the conflicting evidence in the record." Clark v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 143 F.3d 115, 118 (2d Cir. 1998). Under any circumstances, if there is substantial evidence in the record to support the Commissioner's findings as to any fact, they are conclusive and must be upheld. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Cichocki v. Astrue, 729 F.3d 172, 176 (2d Cir. 2013).

DISCUSSION

I. Disability Under the Social Security Act

The Act provides that an individual is disabled if he or she is unable "to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment... which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). The Act's regulations prescribe a five-step analysis for the Commissioner to follow in determining whether a disability benefit claimant is disabled within the meaning of the Act. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520; Talavera, 697 F.3d at 151.

First, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant currently is engaged in "substantial gainful activity." If so, the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i).

If not, the Commissioner proceeds to the second inquiry, which is whether the claimant suffers from a medical impairment or combination of impairments that is "severe, " meaning that the impairment "significantly limits [claimant's] physical or mental ability to do basic work activities." If the impairment ...


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