United States District Court, D. Connecticut
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION
Michael P. Shea, U.S.D.J.
an administrative appeal following the denial of Jannette
Valentin's application for disability insurance benefits.
The appeal is brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§
405(g). Ms. Valentin now moves for an order
reversing the decision of the Commissioner of the Social
Security Administration (“Commissioner”). The
Commissioner has also moved for an order reversing the
decision and remanding the case for further administrative
proceedings. After the Commissioner filed her motion, Ms.
Valentin filed an objection, arguing that on remand the
matter should not be heard by the same Administrative Law
Judge, Imelda K. Harrington, and that any remand should not
be limited to addressing the specific defect identified by
Valentin and the Commissioner agree that the Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in failing to evaluate a
medical source opinion in making her residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) determination. In particular,
the Commissioner asserts that it was an error not to evaluate
and weigh the opinion of consultative examiner Dr. Liese
Franklin-Zitzkat, who evaluated Ms. Valentin on May 22, 2013
in connection with her application for disability insurance
benefits. I agree with the parties that the ALJ did not
evaluate a medical source opinion in making the RFC
determination. Therefore, the Commissioner's Motion for
Entry of Judgment Under Sentence Four of 42 U.S.C. §
405(g) with Reversal and Remand of the Cause to the
Defendant, which Motion (ECF No. 19) is GRANTED, and
Plaintiff's Motion to Reverse the Decision of the
Commissioner (ECF No. 15) is GRANTED IN PART consistent with
defendant's motion. The case is therefore REMANDED for a
full hearing. I do not reach Ms. Valentin's remaining
arguments urging reversal or remand.
22, 2013, Plaintiff Jannette Valentin applied for disability
insurance benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental
security income (“SSI”), alleging that she was
disabled since January 1, 2004, due to back problems, asthma,
ulcer, depression, high blood pressure, and cholesterol. (ECF
No. 11-4 at 8.) Her application and a subsequent request for
reconsideration were denied. (ECF No. 11-5 at 2, 20). She
then requested a hearing before an ALJ. (Id. at 32.)
She appeared with counsel for a hearing on May 13, 2015. (ECF
No. 11-3.) The ALJ issued a decision finding the Plaintiff
not disabled. (Id. at 17.) The ALJ found that Ms.
Valentin's severe impairments were degenerative disc
disease, fibromyalgia, major depressive disorder, and ethanol
abuse. (Id. at 14.) The ALJ determined that Ms.
Valentin did not have a listed impairment, retained the RFC
for medium work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.967(c),
was able to perform past relevant work, and was therefore not
disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act.
(Id. at 16-27.) The Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's Request for Review on December 17, 2015.
(Id. at 2.)
February 16, 2016, Plaintiff filed her complaint in the
present matter. (ECF No. 1.) On April 21, 2016, the
Commissioner filed her answer with a copy of the certified
administrative transcript. (ECF No. 11.) On June 23, 2016,
Plaintiff filed her Motion to Reverse the Decision of the
Commissioner, with briefs and exhibits in support. (ECF No.
15.) On September 22, 2016, the Commissioner filed a Motion
for Entry of Judgment Under Sentence Four of 42 U.S.C. §
405(g) with Reversal and Remand of the Cause to the
Defendant. (ECF No. 19.) On October 23, 2016, Plaintiff filed
her objection to the Commissioner's motion, (ECF No. 21)
and on November 4, 2016 the Commissioner filed a reply. (ECF
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. 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.
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
plaintiff's 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) (internal
citation and quotation marks omitted). Substantial evidence
must be “more than a mere scintilla or a touch of proof
here and there in the record.” Id.
to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the Court has the “power to
enter, upon the pleadings and transcript of the record, a
judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of
the Commissioner of Social Security, with or without
remanding the cause for a rehearing.” The fourth
sentence allows the Court to order a remand where the
Commissioner “has failed to provide a full and fair
hearing, to make explicit findings, or to have correctly
appl[ied] the law and regulations.” Melkonyan v.
Sullivan, 501 U.S. 89, 101 (1991) (internal quotation
marks and citations omitted).
with the parties that remand under sentence four is
appropriate in this case, because the ALJ failed to account
for medical source opinion evidence in determining
Plaintiff's RFC, resulting in the denial of a “full
and fair hearing” for the Plaintiff. The ALJ neglected
to consider the opinion of consultative examiner Dr. Liese
Franklin-Zitzkat in determining the Plaintiff's RFC. Dr.
Franklin-Zitzkat conducted a psychiatric evaluation and found
that the Plaintiff “could have mild to moderate
difficulty attending to instructions, ” “mild to
moderate difficulty remembering instructions, ”
“moderate to marked difficulty sustaining concentration
and withstanding the stresses and pressures of a routine
workday, ” and “moderate to marked difficulty
responding appropriately to supervisors and coworkers.”
(ECF No. 19-2 at 6.) She also noted that “her ability
to make decisions seems ...