United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RULING AND ORDER
R. UNDERHILL, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Davis appealed from the adverse decision of the Commissioner
of Social Security denying his applications for disability
insurance benefits and supplemental security income. After
the Commissioner filed her Answer, Davis moved for judgment
on the pleadings (doc. # 15). Davis accompanied his motion
with a statement of facts (doc. # 17). The Commissioner filed
a cross motion to affirm the decision of the Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”), who had denied Davis'
application. On August 17, 2016, I held oral argument on the
parties' cross-motions and took the matter under
advisement. For the reasons set forth below, the
Commissioner's motion to affirm the ALJ's decision is
granted and Davis' motion to vacate the ALJ's
decision and remand the case is denied.
filed his application for disability insurance benefits and
supplemental social security benefits on October 2, 2012,
alleging an onset date of March 22, 2011. Davis claims that
he suffers from various respiratory diseases and a
degenerative disc disease that causes pain in his lumbar
spine (lower back). Davis also alleges a past history of
depression and alcohol abuse. The existence of Davis'
conditions is not in dispute.
conducting a thorough review of Davis' medical history,
the ALJ concluded that Davis' testimony regarding the
severity of his functional limitations lacked credibility.
Based on that determination, the ALJ held that Davis had the
ability to perform sedentary work in an environment that is
free of moderate to extreme environmental irritants, such as
fumes, odors, dusts, and gasses. Based on the testimony of a
vocational expert, the ALJ concluded that Davis'
condition did not render him unable to find suitable work
notwithstanding his functional limitations. Accordingly, the
ALJ held that Davis was not disabled.
appeals the ALJ's decision, asserting that it was not
supported by substantial evidence. Specifically, Davis
contends that the ALJ erred in making her credibility
assessment of Davis. Davis' memorandum in support of his
motion points to specific instances in which, he alleges, the
ALJ misconstrued, misrepresented, or omitted objective
medical evidence that would corroborate the credibility of
Davis' subjective statements and testimony. Had the ALJ
properly considered such evidence, Davis argues, she would
have found Davis credible and would have relied on his
testimony to conclude that Davis was unable to perform
Standard of Review
standard of review of a Social Security disability
determination under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) is well settled.
It involves two levels of inquiry. First, the court must
decide whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal
principles in making her determination. Second, the court
must decide whether the Commissioner's determination is
supported by substantial evidence. Balsamo v.
Chater, 142 F.3d 75, 79 (2d Cir. 1998); Burgess v.
Astrue, 537 F.3d 117, 127 (2d Cir. 2008). Substantial
evidence means “more than a mere scintilla.”
Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)
(internal citation and quotation marks omitted). It need not
compel the Commissioner's decision; rather it is evidence
that “a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support [the] conclusion” being challenged.
Id.; see also Veino v. Barnhart, 312 F.3d
578, 586 (2d Cir. 2002). In determining whether the
Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial
evidence, the court must consider the entire record,
examining the evidence from both sides. Williams v.
Bowen, 859 F.2d 255, 258 (2d Cir. 1988).
not the court's function to determine de novo
whether the claimant was disabled nor to substitute its
opinion for that of the Commissioner. Rather, the court must
determine whether the Commissioner's decision is
supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole
and whether it is based on an erroneous legal standard.
See Schaal v. Apfel, 134 F.3d 496, 501 (2d Cir.
1998). If the court finds that substantial evidence supports
the Commissioner's decision and that the correct legal
standards were applied, that decision must be upheld, even if
substantial evidence supporting the plaintiff's position
also exists. See Alston v. Sullivan, 904 F.2d 122,
126 (2d Cir. 1990).
determining whether a claimant is disabled, the ALJ must
conduct a “five-step sequential evaluation
process.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(1),
416.920(a)(1). Step one requires the ALJ to determine whether
the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity.
Id. at §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i),
416.920(a)(4)(i). Step two requires the ALJ to consider the
medical severity of the claimant's alleged impairment(s)
to determine whether it is sufficiently severe and meets the
duration requirement in section 404.1509. Id. at
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii), 416.920(a)(4)(ii). Step
three also requires the ALJ to consider the medical severity
of the claimant's alleged impairment(s) and whether such
condition meets or equals a specific impairment listed in
Appendix 1 to Subpart P of 20 C.F.R. § Pt. 404.
Id. at §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii),
416.920(a)(4)(iii). Before going from step three to step
four, the ALJ must identify a residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) that is based on the ALJ's evaluation
of objective medical evidence and the claimant's
subjective evaluation of his impairment(s). Id. at
§§ 404.1520(a)(4), 404.1520(e), 416.920(a)(4)(i),
416.920(e). Based on the RFC, the ALJ must determine whether
the claimant is still able to perform his or her past
relevant work. Id. at §§
404.1520(a)(4)(iv), 416.920(a)(4)(iv). At step five, if the
ALJ determines that the claimant can no longer perform his or
her past relevant work, the ALJ must consider the
claimant's RFC, age, education, and work experience to
determine whether the claimant can make an adjustment to
other work. Id. at §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v),
416.920(a)(4)(v). Often that step is evaluated using a
vocational expert who testifies to the availability of jobs
for a claimant given his or her relevant characteristics and
experience. McIntyre v. Colvin, 758 F.3d 146, 151
(2d Cir. 2014).
challenges the ALJ's decision at step five of the
evaluation process. Davis' primary contention, however,
concerns the ALJ's identification of Davis' RFC, on
which the ALJ relied in evaluating step five.
plaintiff's RFC is “what an individual can still do
despite his or her limitations . . . .” Melville v.
Apfel, 198 F.3d 45, 52 (2d Cir. 1999) (internal
citations and quotation marks omitted).
Ordinarily, RFC is the individual's maximum remaining
ability to do sustained work activities in an ordinary work
setting on a regular and continuing basis, and the RFC
assessment must include a discussion of the individual's
abilities on that basis. A “regular and continuing
basis” means 8 hours a day, for 5 days a week, or an
equivalent work schedule.
Id. (internal citations and quotation marks
omitted). RFC is “an assessment based upon all of the
relevant evidence . . . [which evaluates a claimant's]
ability to meet certain demands of jobs, such as physical
demands, mental demands, sensory requirements, and other
functions . . . .” 20 C.F.R. § 220.120(a).
arriving at an appropriate RFC, the ALJ must undertake a
two-step process to evaluate the claimant's assertions of
pain and other limitations. Genier v. Astrue, 606
F.3d 46, 49 (2d Cir. 2010); Titles II & XVI:
Evaluation of Symptoms in Disability Claims: Assessing the
Credibility of an Individual's Statements, SSR
96-7P, 1996 WL 374186, at *2 (S.S.A. July 2, 1996). First,
the ALJ must determine whether the claimant “suffers
from a medically determinable impairment that could
reasonably be expected to produce the symptoms alleged.
Genier, 606 F.3d at 49. That is because subjective
assertions of pain, alone, cannot be the basis of a finding
of disability. Id. (citing 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1529(a), 416.929(a)). Next, if the ALJ has found that the
claimant suffers such an impairment, the ALJ must evaluate
the “intensity and persistence of [the claimant's]
symptoms . . . [to] determine how [the claimant's]
symptoms limit [his or her] capacity for work[.]” 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1529(c)(1), 416.929(c)(1).
evaluating the intensity and persistence of the
claimant's symptoms, the ALJ must consider the entire
record, including objective medical evidence and the
claimant's subjective reports of pain and other
limitations. Genier, 606 F.3d at 49. Though
objective evidence is preferred, and must be carefully
considered, the ALJ may not reject a claimant's
statements about the intensity and persistence of his or her
pain or other symptoms, or about the effect those symptoms
have on his or her ability to perform work, “solely
because the available objective evidence does not
substantiate such statements.” 20 C.F.R. §§
it will be impossible to objectively document a
claimant's pain or other symptoms that have a limiting
effect on his or her ability to perform work. Id. at
§§ 404.1529(c)(3), 416.929(c)(3). In such
circumstances, the ALJ must “make a finding on the
credibility of the individual's statements based on a
consideration of the entire case record.” SSR 96-7P,
1996 WL 374186, at *2; see also 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1529(c)(3), 404.1529(c)(4), 416.929(c)(3),
undertaking an assessment of the claimant's credibility,
the ALJ must consider evidence relating to the following
(i) the claimant's daily activities;
(ii) the location, duration, frequency, and intensity of the
claimant's pain or other symptoms;
(iii) precipitating and aggravating factors;
(iv) the type, dosage, effectiveness, and side effects of any
medication the claimant takes or has taken to alleviate their
pain or other symptoms;
(v) treatment, other than medication, the claimant receives
or has received for relief of their pain or other symptoms;
(vi) any measures the claimant used or has used to relieve
their pain or other symptoms (e.g., lying flat on their back,
standing for 15 to 20 minutes every ...