United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RULING ON PENDING MOTIONS
WILLIAM I. GARFINKEL United States Magistrate Judge
Michelle Maria Goulart has filed this appeal of the adverse
decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her
application for disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”) and supplemental security income
(“SSI”). Plaintiff now moves, pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 405(g), for an order reversing this decision,
or in the alternative remanding the matter for rehearing.
[Doc. # 22]. Defendant has responded with a motion to affirm
the decision of the Commissioner. [Doc. # 23]. The
undersigned heard oral argument on January 13, 2017. For the
reasons that follow, the Commissioner's decision is
standards for determining a claimant's entitlement to
disability benefits, the Commissioner's five-step
framework for evaluating disability claims, and the district
court's review of the Commissioner's final decision
are well-established. The Court is following those standards,
but does not repeat them here.
filed her DIB and SSI applications on October 12, 2011,
alleging a disability onset date of September 14, 2011. Her
claims were denied at both the initial and reconsideration
levels. On September 12, 2013, Plaintiff, who was represented
by counsel, appeared and testified at a hearing before
administrative law judge Deirdre R. Horton (the
“ALJ”). On March 28, 2014, the ALJ issued a
decision denying Plaintiff's claims. The Appeals Counsel
denied review of the ALJ's decision, making it the final
decision of the Commissioner. This action followed.
DIB and SSI applications allege disability based on both
physical and mental impairments; the arguments presented on
appeal before this Court, however, pertain only to the
ALJ's evaluation of the mental impairments. Plaintiff has
a high school education. (R. 47). At the time of the hearing,
she was working part time on a per diem basis.
(Id.). Plaintiff last worked full time in 2008. (R.
argument the parties stipulated to Plaintiff's medical
background as presented in the briefs accompanying both
parties' motions. The Court adopts these facts and
incorporates them by reference herein.
followed the sequential evaluation process for assessing
disability claims. At Step One, the ALJ found that Plaintiff
had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the
alleged onset date. (R. 23). She determined that any work
Plaintiff performed since the alleged onset date did not rise
to the level of substantial gainful activity. (Id.).
At Step Two, the ALJ found the following severe impairments:
bipolar disorder; degenerative disc disease of the cervical
spine; and degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine.
(Id.). At Step Three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff
did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that
meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed
impairments. (R. 24-26). Next, the ALJ determined Plaintiff
retained the following residual functional
Plaintiff can perform light work except she can understand,
remember, and carry out simple routine tasks; can
occasionally interact with the general public; and can
occasionally interact directly with supervisors and
(R. 26-33). At Step Four, the ALJ found Plaintiff had no past
relevant work. (R. 33). Finally, at Step Five, the ALJ used
the Medical-Vocational Guidelines, 20 C.F.R. Part 404,
Subpart P, Appendix 2 (hereinafter the “Grids”)
as a framework to find that there are other jobs in the
national economy Plaintiff can perform. (Id.). In
making the Step Five finding, the ALJ determined that the
RFC's nonexertional limitations have little or no effect
on the occupational base of unskilled work. (Id.).
Accordingly, the ALJ found Plaintiff not to be disabled.
raises several issues on appeal, which the Court will discuss
Evaluation of Plaintiff's impairments
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to evaluate all of her
mental impairments and erred in only finding Plaintiff's
bipolar disorder as severe at Step Two. Plaintiff maintains
that the evidence shows she has attention deficit
hyperactivity disorder, anxiety, depression, memory problems,
posttraumatic stress disorder, and cognitive deficits
following chemotherapy. Plaintiff further argues that the ALJ
erred by failing to assess the functional limitations of all
of these mental impairments.
Court finds that substantial evidence supports the ALJ's
Step Two analysis. While the record does show that Plaintiff
has been diagnosed with mental impairments in addition to
bipolar disorder, a mere diagnosis does not compel a finding
that an impairment is severe. Case law instructs that a
diagnosis alone does not equate to a finding of severity.
See Rivers v. Astrue, 280 F. App'x 20, 22 (2d
Cir. 2008) (explaining that a “mere diagnosis ...