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Lillis v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

March 1, 2017

CAROLYN COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          WILLIAM I. GARFINKEL, United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Martin Paul Lillis has filed this appeal of the adverse decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying his applications 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. # 18]. Defendant has responded with a motion to affirm the decision of the Commissioner. [Doc. # 21]. The undersigned heard oral argument on February 23, 2017. After a careful review of the administrative record, and thorough consideration of the issues Plaintiff raises, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed.

         Legal Standard

         The 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.


         Plaintiff filed his DIB and SSI applications on September 2, 2009, alleging a disability onset date of May 26, 2006. His claims were denied at both the initial and reconsideration levels. Thereafter, Plaintiff requested a hearing. On September 12, 2011 and January 24, 2012, hearings were held before administrative law judge Robert A. DiBiccaro (the “ALJ”). On March 15, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff's claims. The matter proceeded to the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut, and on June 24, 2014, United States Magistrate Judge Holly B. Fitzsimmons issued a Recommended Ruling remanding the matter for rehearing. See 3:13-cv-508(HBF)(WWE), ECF # 20. The Recommended Ruling was adopted on July 9, 2014, and the matter was remanded for additional administrative proceedings so that the ALJ could evaluate Plaintiff's subjective complaints of pain and reassess Plaintiff's credibility. See 3:13-cv-508(HBF)(WWE), ECF # 21; (R. 483). Upon remand, the ALJ held additional hearings on May 18, 2015 and August 10, 2015. On October 21, 2015, the ALJ issued a partially favorable decision finding Plaintiff disabled as of October 9, 2015, but not before. Plaintiff now appeals that decision to the extent the ALJ did not find him disabled prior to October 9, 2015.

         Plaintiff was forty years old on the alleged onset date. He completed through the eleventh grade in school; he did not earn a high school diploma or its equivalent. (R. 513). Plaintiff has past work experience as a food selector, forklift operator, and mover. (R. 516, 520). Plaintiff last worked in 2006. (R. 486, 515). After an injury at work, he received a lump sum worker's compensation award in 2006. (R. 515). Plaintiff also received some unemployment benefits in 2009, 2010, and 2011. (R. 245).

         At oral 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.

         The ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ 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. 486). At step two, the ALJ found the following severe impairments: right shoulder osteoarthritis with supraspinatous tendon tear, status post-surgical repair and re-tear; left shoulder full thickness tear and osteoarthritis, status post-surgical repair; degenerative disc disease of the cervical and lumbar spine; bilateral osteoarthritis of the hips; obesity; depressive disorder; anxiety disorder; and substance abuse in remission. (Id.). At step three, the ALJ found that since the alleged onset date Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments. (R. 487-88). Next, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the following residual functional capacity[1] since the alleged onset Dated:

Plaintiff can perform sedentary work. He is limited to occasional reaching with his arms extended, no reaching overhead, frequent reaching close to his body, and occasional pushing and pulling of the upper and lower extremities. He requires the ability to change positions every 30 to 60 minutes. He can rotate his head only 45 degrees to the right or left, with no limitations of its up or down movement. He can occasionally climb, balance, stoop, crouch, crawl, and kneel. He is limited to work that requires less than 30 days to learn, and that involves only routine and repetitive tasks. Work should involve few decision and should not involve production pace, such as piecework or assembly line.

(R. 488-94). At step four, the ALJ found Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work. (R. 494). Finally, at step five, the ALJ relied on the testimony of a vocational expert (“VE”) to conclude that, prior to October 9, 2015, there were jobs in significant numbers in the national economy Plaintiff could perform. (R. 494). Specifically, the VE testified that a person with the assessed RFC could perform the positions of document preparer, addressing clerk, and dowel inspector. (R. 495). The ALJ also found that, beginning on October 9, 2015, Plaintiff's age category changed, and a finding of disabled was reached by application of the Medical-Vocational Rules. (R. 496). Accordingly, the ALJ found Plaintiff disabled as of October 9, 2015, but not before.


         Plaintiff raises several issues on appeal, which the Court ...

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