United States District Court, D. Connecticut
B. FITZSIMMONS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Tashia N. Cogdell brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§405(g), seeking review of a final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security which denied her application
for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under
Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §401 et
seq. (“the Act”) and Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C.
§423(a)(1)(E) and §1382(a)(1). Plaintiff has moved
to reverse and remand the case for a rehearing. The
Commissioner has moved to affirm.
reasons set forth below, plaintiff's Motion for Order
Reversing the Commissioner's Decision [Doc. #25] is
DENIED. Defendant's Motion for an Order Affirming the
Decision of the Commissioner [Doc. #31] is GRANTED.
procedural history of this case is not disputed. Plaintiff
filed an application for DIB and SSI on March 26, 2010,
alleging disability as of May 1, 2003. [Certified
Transcript of the Record, Compiled on May 2, 2015, Doc. #15
(hereinafter “Tr.”) 18, 181]. Plaintiff's
claims were denied initially and on reconsideration. [Tr.
October 25, 2011, plaintiff, represented by counsel, appeared
before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Deirdre
Horton for an administrative hearing. [Tr. 36-68]. A second
hearing was held before ALJ Horton on November 2, 2012, after
remand from the Appeals Council. [Tr. 195-98; 69-114].
Vocational Expert (“VE”) Kathleen Regan,
testified by telephone at the hearing. [Tr. 102-113]. On
December 14, 2012, ALJ Horton found that plaintiff was not
disabled, and denied her claim. [Tr. 15-33]. Plaintiff's
January 17, 2013, request for review of the hearing decision
was denied on July 22, 2014. [Tr. 1-7; 8-9]. The case is now
ripe for review under 42 U.S.C. §405(g).
represented by counsel, timely filed this action for review
and moves to reverse the Commissioner's decision.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
review of a social security disability determination involves
two levels of inquiry. First, the Court must decide whether
the Commissioner applied the correct legal principles in
making the determination. Second, the Court must decide
whether the determination is supported by substantial
evidence. Balsamo v. Chater, 142 F.3d 75, 79 (2d
Cir. 1998) (citation omitted). Substantial evidence is
evidence that a reasonable mind would accept as adequate to
support a conclusion; it is more than a “mere
scintilla.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S.
389, 401 (1971) (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v.
NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). The reviewing
court's responsibility is to ensure that a claim has been
fairly evaluated by the ALJ. Grey v. Heckler, 721
F.2d 41, 46 (2d Cir. 1983) (citation omitted).
Court does not reach the second stage of review - evaluating
whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's
conclusion - if the Court determines that the ALJ failed to
apply the law correctly. See Norman v. Astrue, 912
F.Supp.2d 33, 70 (S.D.N.Y. 2012) (“The Court first
reviews the Commissioner's decision for compliance with
the correct legal standards; only then does it determine
whether the Commissioner's conclusions were supported by
substantial evidence.”). “Where there is a
reasonable basis for doubt whether the ALJ applied correct
legal principles, application of the substantial evidence
standard to uphold a finding of no disability creates an
unacceptable risk that a claimant will be deprived of the
right to have her disability determination made according to
the correct legal principles.” Johnson v.
Bowen, 817 F.2d 983, 986 (2d Cir. 1987).
crucial factors in any determination must be set forth with
sufficient specificity to enable [a reviewing court] to
decide whether the determination is supported by substantial
evidence.” Ferraris v. Heckler, 728 F.2d 582,
587 (2d Cir. 1984) (alteration added) (citation omitted). The
ALJ is free to accept or reject the testimony of any witness,
but a “finding that the witness is not credible must
nevertheless be set forth with sufficient specificity to
permit intelligible plenary review of the record.”
Williams ex rel. Williams v. Bowen, 859 F.2d 255,
260-61 (2d Cir. 1988) (citation omitted). “Moreover,
when a finding is potentially dispositive on the issue of
disability, there must be enough discussion to enable a
reviewing court to determine whether substantial evidence
exists to support that finding.” Johnston v.
Colvin, Civil Action No. 3:13-CV-00073(JCH), 2014 WL
1304715, at *6 (D. Conn. Mar. 31, 2014) (internal citations
important to note that, in reviewing the ALJ's decision,
this Court's role is not to start from scratch. “In
reviewing a final decision of the SSA, this Court is limited
to determining whether the SSA's conclusions were
supported by substantial evidence in the record and were
based on a correct legal standard.” Talavera v.
Astrue, 697 F.3d 145, 151 (2d Cir. 2012) (citations and
internal quotation marks omitted). “[W]hether there is
substantial evidence supporting the appellant's view is
not the question here; rather, we must decide whether
substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision.”
Bonet ex rel. T.B. v. Colvin, 523 F. App'x 58,
59 (2d Cir. 2013)(citations omitted).
SSA LEGAL STANDARD
the Social Security Act, every individual who is under a
disability is entitled to disability insurance benefits. 42
U.S.C. §423(a)(1). To qualify for supplemental security
income, an individual must be eligible on the basis of income
and resources. 42 U.S.C. §1381a.
considered disabled under the Act and therefore entitled to
benefits, plaintiff must demonstrate that she is unable to
work after a date specified “by reason of any medically
determinable physical or mental impairment which can be
expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be
expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12
months.” 42 U.S.C. §423(d)(1)(A); 42 U.S.C.
§1382c(a)(3)(A). Such impairment or impairments must be
“of such severity that [s]he is not only unable to do
h[er] previous work but cannot, considering h[er] age,
education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of
substantial gainful work which exists in the national
economy[.]” 42 U.S.C. §423(d)(2)(A); see also 20
C.F.R. §404.1520(c)(alterations added) (requiring that
the impairment “significantly limit ... physical or
mental ability to do basic work activities” to be
considered “severe”); 42 U.S.C.
§1382c(a)(3)(B), 20 C.F.R. §416.920(c).
is a familiar five-step analysis used to determine if a
person is disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §404.1520(a)(4). In
the Second Circuit, the test is described as follows:
First, the Secretary considers whether the claimant is
currently engaged in substantial gainful activity. If he is
not, the Secretary next considers whether the claimant has a
“severe impairment” which significantly limits
his physical or mental ability to do basic work activities.
If the claimant suffers such an impairment, the third inquiry
is whether, based solely on medical evidence, the claimant
has an impairment which is listed in Appendix 1 of the
regulations. If the claimant has such an impairment, the
Secretary will consider him disabled without considering
vocational factors such as age, education, and work
experience; the Secretary presumes that a claimant who is
afflicted with a “listed” impairment is unable to
perform substantial gainful activity.
Berry v. Schweiker, 675 F.2d 464, 467 (2d Cir. 1982)
(per curiam). If and only if the claimant does not have a
listed impairment, the Commissioner engages in the fourth and
Assuming the claimant does not have a listed impairment, the
fourth inquiry is whether, despite the claimant's severe
impairment, he has the residual functional capacity to
perform his past work. Finally, if the claimant is unable to
perform his past work, the Secretary then determines whether
there is other work which the claimant could perform. Under
the cases previously discussed, the claimant bears the burden
of proof as to the first four steps, while the Secretary must
prove the final one.
the fourth step, the claimant carries the burdens of
production and persuasion, but if the analysis proceeds to
the fifth step, there is a limited shift in the burden of
proof and the Commissioner is obligated to demonstrate that
jobs exist in the national or local economies that the
claimant can perform given his residual functional
capacity.” Gonzalez ex rel. Guzman v. Dep't of
Health and Human Serv., 360 F. App'x 240, 243 (2d
Cir. 2010) (citing 68 Fed. Reg. 51155 (Aug. 26, 2003));
Poupore v. Astrue, 566 F.3d 303, 306 (2d Cir. 2009)
(per curiam)). “Residual functional capacity” is
what a person is still capable of doing despite limitations
resulting from his physical and mental impairments. See
20 C.F.R. §§404.1545(a), 416.945(a)(1).
assessing disability, factors to be considered are (1) the
objective medical facts; (2) diagnoses or medical opinions
based on such facts; (3) subjective evidence of pain or
disability testified to by the claimant or others; and (4)
the claimant's educational background, age, and work
experience.” Bastien v. Califano, 572 F.2d
908, 912 (2d Cir. 1978) (citation omitted).
“[E]ligibility for benefits is to be determined in
light of the fact that the Social Security Act is a remedial
statute to be broadly construed and liberally applied.”
Id. (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).
THE ALJ'S DECISION
the above-described five step evaluation process, ALJ Horton
concluded that plaintiff was not disabled under the Social
Security Act. [Tr. 18-28]. At step one, the ALJ found that
plaintiff had engaged in substantial gainful activity between
October 2009 through June 2010. [Tr. 21]. The ALJ found that
there has been a continuous twelve month period(s) during
which plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful
activity. Id. Her findings address the period(s)
plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity.
two, the ALJ found that plaintiff had the severe medical
impairments of degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine
and bipolar disorder. Id.
three, the ALJ found that plaintiff's impairments or
combination of impairments did not meet or medically equal
the severity of one of the listed impairments listed in 20
C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 C.F.R. 404.1520(d)
and 416.920(d)), specifically listings 1.04 (musculoskeletal
for disorders of the spine) and 12.04 (depressive disorder).
Id. The ALJ also conducted a psychiatric review
technique and found that plaintiff had mild limitations in
her activities of daily living, and moderate limitations in
social functioning, concentration, persistence and pace, and
no episodes of extended duration decompensation. [Tr. 21-22].
moving on to step four, the ALJ found that plaintiff had the
RFC to perform
light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(b) and
416.967(b), and can sit, stand, and walk for 6 hours in an 8
hour day. She can lift and carry 25 pounds occasionally and
10 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. She is able
to understand, remember, and carry out instructions; she
would do better at working in her own or in small groups; she
should avoid working with the public. She can maintain
attention and focus to complete simple tasks; however, she
would occasionally have difficulties maintaining focus for
four, the ALJ found plaintiff was unable to perform her past
relevant work as a nurse's aide. [Tr. 26]. At step five,
considering plaintiff's age, education, work experience
and RFC, the ALJ found that jobs existed in significant
numbers in the national economy that plaintiff could perform.
appeal, plaintiff asserts the following arguments in favor of
ALJ's step three finding was error;
ALJ's application of the treating physician's rule
ALJ's credibility assessment was not supported by
ALJ did not properly evaluate the duration, persistence,
location and severity of plaintiff's pain;
ALJ's analysis of plaintiff's residual functional
capacity was not supported by substantial evidence; 6. The
ALJ's step five ...