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BROWN v. MASSANARI

October 15, 2001

RICARD BROWN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
LARRY G. MASSANARI[FN1], COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Nolan, United States Magistrate Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion to Alter or Amend the Judgment, filed on April 10, 2001, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e). Plaintiff claims that in this Court's March 29, 2001 Memorandum Opinion and Order affirming the Commissioner's final decision finding Plaintiff not disabled, this Court made a manifest error of law requiring the Court alter its judgment and find in favor of Plaintiff. Plaintiff argues that this Court erroneously considered Plaintiff's claim for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) under principles only applicable to claims for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) by failing to determine whether Plaintiff was entitled to a closed period of disability.*fn2 As explained below, the Court agrees that Plaintiff did argue his entitlement to benefits during a closed period in his motion for summary judgment which this Court did not satisfactorily consider, and is therefore entitled to reconsideration of his motion. Upon reconsideration, the Court finds that the ALJ did not adequately address Plaintiffs entitlement to benefits during a closed period, and finds that this matter should be remanded to the Commissioner for further proceedings.

I. Requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e)

Because Plaintiff's motion was filed within ten days after entry of judgment, the motion is appropriately considered to be seeking to alter or amend the judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 59(e) rather than Rule 60(b). See Doe v. Howe Military Sch., 227 F.3d 981, 992 (7th Cir. 2000). Rule 59(e) "generally requires a lower threshold of proof than does 60(b)," Helm v. Resolution Trust Corp., 43 F.3d 1163, 1166 (7th Cir. 1995), and "enables a district court to correct its own errors, sparing the parties and the appellate courts the burden of unnecessary appellate proceedings." Russell v. Delco Remy Div. of Gen. Motors Corp., 51 F.3d 746, 749 (7th Cir. 1995). In contrast, Rule 60(b) is an "extraordinary remedy." Id.

Rule 59(e) allows the movant to bring to the district court's attention a manifest error of law or fact, or newly discovered evidence. LB Credit Corp. v. Resolution Trust Corp., 49 F.3d 1263, 1267 (7th Cir. 1995). It "does not provide a vehicle for a party to undo its own procedural failures, and it certainly does not allow a party to introduce new evidence or advance arguments that could and should have been presented to the district court prior to the judgment." Moro v. Shell Oil Co., 91 F.3d 872, 876 (7th Cir. 1996).

II. Analysis

A. Plaintiff's Claim that the Court Erred in its March 29, 2001 Opinion

Plaintiff alleges that he was disabled from June 2, 1994 through October 1995, and that this Court (and the ALJ) erroneously failed to consider his claims for benefits during a closed period. Plaintiff claims that monthly DIB benefits may be paid for up to twelve months preceding the filing of a DIB application, and that there is, therefore, no requirement under DIB that the applicant be currently disabled. In responding to Plaintiff's motion, Defendant agrees that there is no requirement that Plaintiff establish current disability in order to receive DIB for an earlier period of time. (Def.'s Resp. at 1.) However, Defendant points out that the there must be a finding of disability before the provision allowing retroactive benefits is applicable, and that no such finding is warranted here. (Id. at 2.)

The Court agrees with Plaintiff that an individual may collect DIB under Title II which covers up to twelve months of disability prior to the filing of a DIB application, provided that he had insured DIB status during that period of disability. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.131, 404.315. Therefore, this Court erred in its March 29, 2001 Opinion, when it applied standards applicable to Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and held that Plaintiff had to establish a current disability in order to qualify for benefits. (March 29, 2001 Memorandum Opinion and Order, at 14.)

However, a DIB applicant bears the burden of demonstrating that he is disabled within the meaning of the Act on or before the date his insured status expired. Pope v. Shalala, 998 F.2d 473, 477 (7th Cir. 1993). Therefore, in evaluating whether Plaintiff is entitled to relief pursuant to his motion to reconsider, the Court must consider whether substantial evidence supported the ALJ's determination that Plaintiff had "not been under a disability as defined in the Social Security Act, at any time from June 2, 1994, through the date of [his] decision." (R. 27.)

B. The Court's Reconsideration of the ALJ's Decision Regarding Plaintiff's Claim for Disability Benefits

As the Court has determined that it should reconsider Plaintiff's claim for benefits during a closed period, it must now re-examine whether the ALJ's determination that Plaintiff was not disabled was based upon substantial evidence, according to the standards of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Judicial review of an ALJ's decision is limited to determining whether the ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence or based upon a legal error. Stevenson v. Chater, 105 F.3d 1151, 1153 (7th Cir. 1997). Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971). This Court may not substitute its judgment for that of the Commissioner by reevaluating facts, reweighing evidence, resolving conflicts in evidence, or deciding questions of credibility. Estok v. Apfel, 152 F.3d 636, 638 (7th Cir. 1998). Section 405(g) provides in relevant part that "[t]he findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive. . . ." 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence means "`more than a mere scintilla'" of proof, instead requiring "`such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'" Ehrhart v. Secretary of Health & Human Services, 969 F.2d 534, 538 (7th Cir. 1992) (citations omitted).

In this case, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not disabled, and therefore not entitled to benefits. The Social Security Regulations prescribe a sequential five-part test for determining whether a claimant is disabled. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520 (1998). The ALJ must consider: (1) whether the claimant is presently unemployed; (2) whether the claimant has a severe impairment or combination of impairments; (3) whether the claimant's impairment meets or equals any impairment listed in the regulations as being so severe as to preclude substantial gainful activity; (4) whether the claimant is unable to perform his past relevant work; and (5) whether the claimant is unable to perform any other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520 (1998); See also Young v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 957 F.2d 386, 389 (7th Cir. 1992).

This Court adopts the portion of its March 29, 2001 Opinion which set forth the factual history of this case, (March 29, 2001 Memorandum Opinion and Order, at 5-12), however, a brief summary of the facts is helpful. In June 1994, Plaintiff was in a motor vehicle accident in which he sustained injuries to his back, right knee, left ankle, and left leg. Plaintiff continued to have complaints of pain in his right leg, right ankle, and back, and underwent surgery on his right knee in February 1995. In July 1995, Dr. Patrick Sweeney, an orthopedic surgeon, performed surgery on Plaintiff's back. In 1996 and 1997, Plaintiff underwent a series of evaluations, including a summary and evaluation ...


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