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DeLeon v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

June 6, 2016



          Janet C. Hall United States District Judge


         Plaintiff Neldyn Molina DeLeon ("DeLeon") has filed this action pursuant to section 405(g) of title 42 of the United States Code seeking an Order reversing the final decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security, defendant Carolyn Colvin ("Colvin"), that DeLeon is not entitled to Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. See Mot. to Reverse the Decision of the Commissioner ("Mot. to Reverse") (Doc. No. 16). Colvin has filed a cross-Motion in which she asks the court to affirm the final decision denying DeLeon benefits. See Def.’s Mot. for an Order Affirming the Decision of the Commissioner ("Mot. to Affirm") (Doc. No. 17).

         For the reasons that follow, the court GRANTS DeLeon’s Motion to Reverse (Doc. No. 16), DENIES Colvin’s Motion to Affirm (Doc. No. 17), and REMANDS this case to the agency for proceedings consistent with this Ruling.


         DeLeon is a 51 year old woman who moved to the United States from Puerto Rico in late 2011 or early 2012. See Certified Tr. of the Record ("Tr.") at 36, 38 (Doc. No. 11). She moved to the United States to obtain treatment and care for her son, a minor child with Down Syndrome. See id. at 37, 45. DeLeon does not speak English, but she can read and write in Spanish, and she completed one year of college in Puerto Rico. See id. at 32, 38. She has no work history to speak of. See id. at 39.

         On December 29, 2011, DeLeon filed an application for SSI benefits in which she alleged that she had become disabled on January 1, 2010. See id. at 15. Her application was denied on April 20, 2012. See id. at 71. DeLeon requested reconsideration of that decision, but her claim was again denied on April 18, 2013. See id. at 76. DeLeon requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), which was received by the Social Security Administration ("SSA") on April 26, 2013. See id. at 79.

         ALJ Robert A. DiBiccaro of the SSA’s Office of Disability Adjudication and Review in New Haven, Connecticut, held a hearing on DeLeon’s application for benefits on May 12, 2014. See id. at 32. DeLeon, who was represented by counsel, testified at that hearing through an interpreter. See id. She was the sole witness. See id. at 32-49. However, various medical records were submitted for ALJ DiBiccaro’s consideration, most notably more than two years of treatment notes from providers at Cornell Scott - Hill Health Center ("Hill Health") in New Haven, Connecticut, which begin in 2012, shortly after DeLeon moved to the continental United States. See id. at 316-502.[1] In those treatment notes, Hill Health staff repeatedly record that DeLeon is complaining of pain in her back and neck; occasionally these notes also reference a possible psychiatric component to DeLeon’s complaints. See, e.g., id. at 456 (describing DeLeon as an "anxious looking female"); id. at 430 (stating that DeLeon has "pain in neck, unable to turn, has herniated disk (lower back) [and] arthritis in hands"). DeLeon’s doctors at Hill Health prescribed her medications for her physical and mental impairments, see id. at 217 (medication list), and provided her with referrals for physical therapy, see id. at 340, and mental health therapy, [2] see id. at 464, 466.

         In addition to the treatment notes from Hill Health, the Record before ALJ DiBiccaro included opinions from two consulting doctors, one of whom completed a Consultative Examination and Report, and the other of whom reviewed DeLeon’s medical records as a nonexamining consultant. The Consultative Examination was conducted by Frank Mongillo, M.D. ("Dr. Mongillo") on April 9, 2013. See id. at 402. In his Report on that examination, Dr. Mongillo notes he evaluated DeLeon for "pain in her lower back and diffuse arthritis and arthralgias, " and ultimately concluded that DeLeon’s "complaints seem somewhat out of proportion to her physical findings." Id. at 402-03. However, Dr. Mongillo "question[ed] whether or not there is a psychiatric component to this patient’s complaints" and opined that "a psychiatric evaluation might be helpful." Id. at 403. Dr. Mongillo’s Report and DeLeon’s other records were reviewed by nonexamining consultant Firooz Golkar, M.D. ("Dr. Golkar") on April 18, 2013. See Id. at 69. Dr. Golkar concluded that DeLeon was not disabled, finding that her "condition results in some limitations in [her] ability to perform work related activities but does not prevent [her] from working, " and that, although DeLeon had various exertional limitations, her "allegation of total disability [was] not supported by evidence in file." Id. at 66, 69. Dr. Golkar’s report does not appear to address the effect, if any, of DeLeon’s mental impairments on her ability to work.[3]

         On the basis of the Record before him, on May 30, 2014, ALJ DiBiccaro issued a Decision denying DeLeon’s SSI claim. See id. at 9-25. In particular, ALJ DiBiccaro applied the familiar five-step sequential test for determining disability and made the following findings:

1. DeLeon has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the date on which she applied for SSI benefits;
2. DeLeon has severe impairments that include "degenerative disk disease; mild osteoarthritis; depressive disorder (rule-out major depressive disorder, recurrent, moderate); and anxiety disorder NOS (rule-out PTSD)";
3. DeLeon "does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1";
4. DeLeon has "the residual functional capacity to perform light work . . . except that she is limited to occasional contact with supervisors, ...

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