United States District Court, D. Connecticut
LUIS G. LUNA
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION
RULING ON CROSS MOTIONS
B. FITZSIMMONS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Luis G. Luna brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§405(g), seeking review of a final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security denying his application for
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI) under Title XVI of
the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §401 et seq.
(“the Act”). Plaintiff has moved to reverse or
remand the case for a rehearing. The Commissioner has moved
reasons set forth below, plaintiff’s Motion for Order
Reversing the Decision of the Commissioner and Order for
Remand [Doc. #14] is
GRANTED. Defendant’s Motion for an
Order Affirming the Decision of the Commissioner
[Doc. #15] is DENIED.
procedural history of this case is not disputed. Plaintiff
filed an application for SSI on July 9, 2010, alleging
disability as of August 14, 2001. [Certified Transcript of
the Record, Compiled on April 15, 2014, Doc. #9 (hereinafter
“Tr.”) 282]. Plaintiff alleged disability due to:
trauma from a car accident, loss of memory, depression, a
heart condition, metal in right hand, respiratory problems,
and water in the lungs. [Tr. 301]. His SSI claim was denied
initially on October 19, 2010, and upon reconsideration on
November 18, 2010. [Tr. 94, 115]. Plaintiff timely requested
a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) on December 18, 2010. [Tr. 133].
August 2, 2012, Administrative Law Judge James E. Thomas held
a hearing at which plaintiff appeared with an attorney and
testified. [Tr. 66-93]. Vocational expert (“VE”)
Renee B. Jubrey also appeared and testified Id. On
October 15, 2012, the ALJ found that plaintiff was not
disabled, and denied his claim. [Tr. 16-26]. Plaintiff filed
a timely request for review of the hearing decision on
October 22, 2012. [Tr. 58]. On November 26, 2013, the Appeals
Council denied review, thereby rendering ALJ Thomas’s
decision the final decision of the Commissioner. [Tr. 1-4].
The case is now ripe for review under 42 U.S.C. §405(g).
represented by counsel, timely filed this action for review
and moves to reverse the Commissioner’s decision.
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. Balsamo v. Chater, 142 F.3d 75, 79 (2d Cir. 1998)
(citation omitted). 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) (citation omitted).
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) (citation omitted). 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) (citation omitted). “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,
Civil Action No. 3:13-CV-00073(JCH), 2014 WL 1304715, at *6
(D. Conn. Mar. 31, 2014) (internal citations omitted).
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.” Talavera v.
Astrue, 697 F.3d 145, 151 (2d Cir. 2012) (citations and
internal quotation marks omitted). “[W]hether there is
substantial evidence supporting the appellant’s view is
not the question here; rather, we must decide whether
substantial evidence supports the ALJ’s
decision.” Bonet ex rel. T.B. v. Colvin, 523 F.
App’x 58, 59 (2d Cir. 2013)(citations omitted).
SSA LEGAL STANDARD
the Social Security Act, every individual who is under a
disability is entitled to disability insurance benefits.
considered disabled under the Act and therefore entitled to
benefits, Mr. Luna must demonstrate that he 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 he is not
only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering
his 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); see also 20
C.F.R. §404.1520(c)(requiring that the impairment
“significantly limit [ ] ... physical or mental ability
to do basic work activities” to be considered
is a familiar five-step analysis used to determine if a
person is disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §404.1520(a)(4). In
the Second Circuit, the test is described as follows:
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 ...