United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RULING ON THE PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO REVERSE AND
THE DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO AFFIRM THE DECISION OF THE
Michael P. Shea, U.S.D.J.
an administrative appeal following the denial of the
plaintiff, Jennifer Ramos's, application for disability
insurance benefits. The appeal is brought pursuant to 42
U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). Ms. Ramos now
moves for an order reversing the decision of the Commissioner
of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”). In the alternative, Ms. Ramos
seeks an order remanding her case for a rehearing. The
Commissioner, in turn, has moved for an order affirming the
Ramos argues, among other things, that the Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”) erred in concluding that (1) Ms.
Ramos's medical conditions did not meet or medically
equal a listed impairment, which would have made her per
se disabled; (2) that the ALJ's finding that Ms.
Ramos could perform jobs in the national economy was not
supported by substantial evidence; and (3) that the ALJ did
not properly apply the treating physician rule. Because I
agree that the ALJ erred in determining the jobs that Ms.
Ramos could perform in the national economy and misapplied
the treating physician rule with regard to her treating
psychiatrist, the case is REMANDED. I do not reach Ms.
Ramos's remaining arguments urging reversal or remand.
August 22, 2012, Ms. Ramos filed an application for
disability benefits for an alleged disability. (Joint
Statement of Facts, ECF No. 14-2 at 1.) On January 22, 2013,
a disability adjudicator in the Social Security
Administration denied her initial request for disability
benefits and thereafter denied her request for
reconsideration. (Id.) On May 8, 2014, Ms. Ramos
appeared with counsel for a hearing before ALJ I.K.
Harrington. (Id.) On July 23, 2014, the ALJ issued a
decision denying benefits. (Id.)
found that Ms. Ramos was a 34-year-old woman with severe
impairments of degenerative disc disease, arthritis,
psoriasis, asthma, and obesity. (ALJ Decision, Tr. 18, 28.)
The ALJ rejected the allegations that Ms. Ramos also had
severe impairments of hyperlipidemia, glucose intolerance,
Vitamin D deficiency, migraines, sleep apnea, depression,
heroin dependence, and opioid dependence. (Id. at
19.) Next, the ALJ determined that Ms. Ramos did not have a
listed impairment, and had the following Residual Functional
to perform “light work” as defined in 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.967(b), except with sitting up to six hours,
standing and walking up to four hours; frequent climbing
ramps and stairs, and balancing; occasional stooping,
kneeling, crouching[, ] crawling, climbing ladders, ropes and
scaffolding; frequent reaching both overhead and forward with
the right upper extremity, which is the dominant side and
frequent fingering and handling in both upper extremities,
avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold, vibration and
occasional exposure to fumes, odors, dusts, gases and poor
ventilation, and is capable of simple routine tasks involving
no more than simple, short instructions and occasional
interaction with general public, supervisors and coworkers.
(Id. at 21, 23.) Finally, the ALJ found that
although Ms. Ramos had no past relevant work, there were jobs
that exist in significant numbers in the national economy
that Ms. Ramos could perform based on her age, RFC, work
experience, and limited education, and therefore she was not
disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act.
(Id. at 28-29.)
15, 2015, the appeals council denied Ms. Ramos's request
for review of the ALJ's decision, thereby making the
ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner.
(Joint Statement of Facts, ECF No. 14-2 at 1.) This appeal
followed. Specific facts and portions of the ALJ's
decision will be discussed below as necessary.
Social Security Act establishes that benefits are payable to
individuals who have a disability. 42 U.S.C. §
423(a)(1). “The term ‘disability' means...
[an] inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity
by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental
impairment....” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1). To
determine whether a claimant is disabled within the meaning
of the Social Security Act, the ALJ must follow a five-step
evaluation process as promulgated by the Commissioner.
five steps are as follows: (1) The Commissioner considers
whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial
gainful activity; (2) if not, the Commissioner considers
whether the claimant has a “severe impairment”
which limits his or her mental or physical ability to do
basic work activities; (3) if the claimant has a
“severe impairment, ” the Commissioner must ask
whether, based solely on the medical evidence, the claimant
has an impairment listed in Appendix 1 of the regulations. 20
C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4). If the claimant has one of these
enumerated impairments, the Commissioner will automatically
consider that claimant disabled, without considering
vocational factors such as age, education, and work
experience. Id. (4) if the impairment is not
“listed” in the regulations, the Commissioner
then asks whether, despite the claimant's severe
impairment, he or she has the residual functional capacity to
perform his or her past work; and (5) if the claimant is
unable to perform his or her past work, the Commissioner then
determines whether there is other work the claimant could
perform. Id. To be considered disabled, an
individual's impairment must be “of such severity
that he is not only unable to do his previous work but
cannot... engage in any other kind of substantial gainful
work which exists in the national economy.” 42 U.S.C.
§ 423(d)(2)(A). The Commissioner bears the burden of
proof on the fifth step, while the claimant has the burden on
the first four steps. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4).
district court reviewing a final ... decision pursuant to
... 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), is performing
an appellate function.” Zambrana v. Califano,
651 F.2d 842, 844 (2d Cir. 1981). “The findings of the
Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported
by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive.” 42
U.S.C. § 405(g). Accordingly, a district court may not
make a de novo determination of whether a plaintiff
is disabled in reviewing a denial of disability benefits.
Wagner v. Sec 'y of Health & Human Servs.,
906 F.2d 856, 860 (2d Cir. 1990). Rather, the court's
function is to ascertain whether the correct legal principles
were applied in reaching the decision, and whether the
decision is supported by substantial evidence. Johnson v.
Bowen, 817 F.2d 983, 985 (2d Cir. 1987). If the
Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial
evidence, that decision will be sustained, even where there
may also be substantial evidence to support the plaintiffs
contrary position. Schauer v. Schweiker, 675 F.2d
55, 57 (2d Cir. 1982). The Second Circuit has defined
substantial evidence as “such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Williams v. Bowen, 859 F.2d 255,
258 (2d Cir. 1988) (citation and quotation marks omitted).
Substantial evidence must be “more than a mere
scintilla or a touch of proof here and there in the
first decide whether substantial evidence supported the
determination that Ms Ramos's condition did not meet or
medically equal a listed impairment, which would have made
her disabled per se at step three of the ...