Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Valentin v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

March 8, 2017

JANNETTE VALENTIN Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OF DECISION

          Michael P. Shea, U.S.D.J.

         This is 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).[1] 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 the Commissioner.

         Ms. 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.

         I. Procedural History

         On May 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.)

         On 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 No. 23.)

         Specific facts and portions of the ALJ's decision will be discussed below as necessary.

         II. Standard

         The 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.[2] 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).

         “A 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.

         III. Discussion

         A. Remand

         Pursuant 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).

         I agree 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 ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.