United States District Court, D. Connecticut
SARAH A. L. MERRIAM UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Maria Elena Ortiz (“plaintiff”), brings this
appeal under §205(g) of the Social Security Act (the
“Act”), as amended, 42 U.S.C. §405(g),
seeking review of a final decision by the Commissioner of the
Social Security Administration (the
“Commissioner”) denying her application for
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under the
Act. Plaintiff has moved for judgment on the administrative
record and pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal
Rules of Civil Procedure. [Doc. #16].
reasons set forth below, plaintiff's Motion for Judgment
on the Administrative Record and Pleadings Pursuant to
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c) [Doc. #16] is GRANTED, to the extent it
seeks remand for a new hearing. Defendant's Motion for an
Order Affirming the Commissioner's Decision [Doc. #21] is
filed concurrent applications for DIB and SSI on February 14,
2012, alleging disability beginning February 28, 2011.
(Certified Transcript of the Administrative Record, compiled
on August 2, 2015, (hereinafter “Tr.”) 197-209).
Plaintiff's applications were denied initially on May 9,
2012, (Tr. 61-84), and upon reconsideration on October 12,
2012. (Tr. 87-112).
February 18, 2014, the plaintiff, accompanied and represented
by attorney Danielle Choi, appeared and testified at a
hearing before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”)
James E. Thomas. (Tr. 35-60). Vocational Expert
(“VE”) Richard B. Hall also testified at the
hearing. (Tr. 56-59). On March 19, 2014, the ALJ issued an
unfavorable decision. (Tr. 18-34). On April 17, 2015, the
Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review,
thereby making the ALJ's March 19, 2014, decision the
final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-6). The case is
now ripe for review under 42 U.S.C. §405(g).
represented by attorney Howard D. Olinksy, timely filed this
action for review and now moves to reverse the
Commissioner's decision. [Doc. #16]. On appeal, plaintiff
asserts the following:
1. The ALJ erred in his application of the treating physician
2. The ALJ erred in determining that plaintiff did not have
any severe physical impairments;
3. The ALJ's credibility assessment is not supported by
substantial evidence; and
4. The ALJ's step four determination is not supported by
forth below, the Court finds that ALJ Thomas erred in his
application of the treating physician rule, and that the
ALJ's credibility determination is not supported by
substantial evidence. The Court does not reach the merits of
plaintiff's remaining contentions as they concern her
alleged physical impairments, in light of the above
STANDARD OF REVIEW
review of a social security disability determination involves
two levels of inquiry. First, the Court must decide whether
the Commissioner applied the correct legal principles in
making the determination. Second, the Court must decide
whether the determination is supported by substantial
evidence. See Balsamo v. Chater, 142 F.3d 75, 79 (2d
Cir. 1998). Substantial evidence is evidence that a
reasonable mind would accept as adequate to support a
conclusion; it is more than a “mere scintilla.”
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)
(quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S.
197, 229 (1938)). The reviewing court's responsibility is
to ensure that a claim has been fairly evaluated by the
ALJ. Grey v. Heckler, 721 F.2d 41, 46 (2d Cir. 1983)
Court does not reach the second stage of review - evaluating
whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's
conclusion - if the Court determines that the ALJ failed to
apply the law correctly. See Norman v. Astrue, 912
F.Supp.2d 33, 70 (S.D.N.Y. 2012) (“The Court first
reviews the Commissioner's decision for compliance with
the correct legal standards; only then does it determine
whether the Commissioner's conclusions were supported by
substantial evidence.”). “Where there is a
reasonable basis for doubt whether the ALJ applied correct
legal principles, application of the substantial evidence
standard to uphold a finding of no disability creates an
unacceptable risk that a claimant will be deprived of the
right to have her disability determination made according to
the correct legal principles.” Johnson v.
Bowen, 817 F.2d 983, 986 (2d Cir. 1987).
crucial factors in any determination must be set forth with
sufficient specificity to enable [a reviewing court] to
decide whether the determination is supported by substantial
evidence.” Ferraris v. Heckler, 728 F.2d 582,
587 (2d Cir. 1984) (alteration added). The ALJ is free to
accept or reject the testimony of any witness, but a
“finding that the witness is not credible must
nevertheless be set forth with sufficient specificity to
permit intelligible plenary review of the record.”
Williams ex rel. Williams v. Bowen, 859 F.2d 255,
260-61 (2d Cir. 1988). “Moreover, when a finding is
potentially dispositive on the issue of disability, there
must be enough discussion to enable a reviewing court to
determine whether substantial evidence exists to support that
finding.” Johnston v. Colvin, No.
3:13CV00073(JCH), 2014 WL 1304715, at *6 (D. Conn. Mar.
important to note that in reviewing the ALJ's decision,
this Court's role is not to start from scratch. “In
reviewing a final decision of the SSA, this Court is limited
to determining whether the SSA's conclusions were
supported by substantial evidence in the record and were
based on a correct legal standard.” Lamay v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 562 F.3d 503, 507 (2d Cir.
2009); 42 U.S.C. §405(g).
SSA LEGAL STANDARD
the Social Security Act, every individual who is under a
disability is entitled to disability insurance benefits. 42
considered disabled under the Act and therefore entitled to
benefits, Ms. Ortiz must demonstrate that she is unable to
work after a date specified “by reason of any medically
determinable physical or mental impairment which can be
expected to result in death or 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). Such impairment
or impairments must be “of such severity that [s]he is
not only unable to do [her] previous work but cannot,
considering [her] age, education, and work experience, engage
in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in
the national economy.” 42 U.S.C.
§423(d)(2)(A)(alterations added); 20 C.F.R.
§§404.1520(c), 416.920(c) (alterations
added)(requiring that the impairment “significantly
limit ... physical or mental ability to do basic work
activities” to be considered “severe”).
is a familiar five-step analysis used to determine if a
person is disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §§404.1520,
416.920. In the Second Circuit, the test is described as
First, the Secretary considers whether the claimant is
currently engaged in substantial gainful activity. If he is
not, the Secretary next considers whether the claimant has a
“severe impairment” which significantly limits
his physical or mental ability to do basic work activities.
If the claimant suffers such an impairment, the third inquiry
is whether, based solely on medical evidence, the claimant
has an impairment which is listed in Appendix 1 of the
regulations. If the claimant has such an impairment, the
Secretary will consider him disabled without considering
vocational factors such as age, education, and work
experience; the Secretary presumes that a claimant who is
afflicted with a “listed” impairment is unable to
perform substantial gainful activity.
Berry v. Schweiker,
675 F.2d 464, 467 (2d Cir. 1982)
(per curiam). If and only if the claimant does not have a
listed impairment, the Commissioner engages in the ...