United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RULING AND ORDER
A. BOLDEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
September 19, 2014, Plaintiff, Michelle Esposito, initiated
this lawsuit by filing a Complaint under 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). Compl., ECF No. 1. Ms. Esposito seeks the reversal of
a final decision by Defendant, Carolyn Colvin, the Acting
Commissioner of Social Security (the
“Commissioner”), denying Ms. Esposito's
application for disability insurance benefits. Mot. to
Reverse Decision, ECF No. 17. On November 23, 2015,
Magistrate Judge William I. Garfinkel issued a ruling
recommending that the Court affirm the decision of the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) in Ms.
Esposito's case. Recommended Ruling, ECF No. 24. On
December 21, 2015, Ms. Esposito formally objected to the
Recommended Ruling. Pl. Obj., ECF No. 26. The underlying
facts of this case are fully set forth in the Recommended
72(b)(3) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and Local
Rule 72.2(b) of the Local Civil Rules of the United States
District Court for the District of Connecticut require the
Court to review de novo any sections of the
Recommended Ruling to which any party properly objects. Ms.
Esposito has objected to the Recommended Ruling on the
following grounds: (1) it affirmed an improper application of
the “treating physician rule”; (2) its
“step five” analysis was erroneous; and (3) its
credibility assessment was inadequate. Pl. Obj., ECF No. 26.
Each of these objections largely repeats arguments made
before Magistrate Judge Garfinkel. See Johnston
v. Colvin, No. 3:13-CV-00073 (JCH), 2014 WL 1304715, at
*1 (D. Conn. Mar. 31, 2014) (“Where the objecting party
simply reiterates her original argument, the court reviews
the Magistrate Judge's recommended ruling only for clear
error.” (citing Pall Corp. v. Entegria, Inc.,
249 F.R.D. 48, 51 (E.D.N.Y. 2008); Burgos v. Astrue,
No. 3:09-CV-1216 (VLB), 2010 WL 3829108, at *1 (D. Conn.
Sept. 22, 2010))).
Court has carefully reviewed the Recommended Ruling,
Plaintiff's Objections, the ALJ's Decision, and the
evidence in the administrative record pertinent to the
specific objections Ms. Esposito raised. For the reasons
outlined below, the Recommended Ruling is
ADOPTED in its entirety, and for the
well-stated reasons provided in the Recommended Ruling, Ms.
Esposito's Motion to Reverse the Decision of the
Commissioner [ECF No. 17] is DENIED and
Defendant's Motion to Affirm the Commissioner's
Decision [ECF No. 18] is GRANTED.
Treating Physician Rule
Esposito argues that both the ALJ decision and the
Recommended Ruling improperly applied the “treating
physician rule” by failing to give controlling weight
to the opinions provided by two of her treating physicians,
Dr. Daniel Feldman and Dr. Aleesha Grier. The Court
the treating physician rule, “the opinion of a
claimant's treating physician as to the nature and
severity of the impairment is given ‘controlling
weight' so long as it ‘is well-supported by
medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic
techniques and is not inconsistent with the other substantial
evidence in [the] case record.'” Burgess v.
Astrue, 537 F.3d 117, 128 (2d Cir. 2008) (quoting 20
C.F.R. § 404.1527(d)(2)); see also Greek v.
Colvin, 802 F.3d 370, 375 (2d Cir. 2015). Ms. Esposito
argues that the ALJ decision and the Recommended Ruling
improperly failed to consider all of the substantial evidence
in the record when concluding that the opinions of Dr.
Feldman and Dr. Grier should not be given controlling weight.
Ms. Esposito does not deny that there is some evidence in the
record that contradicts these treating physicians'
conclusions. See Pl. Obj. at 7 (“We confront a
situation in this case in which there is, to be sure, a small
quantum of evidence that undercuts Dr. Feldman's
opinions”). However, she claims that this contradictory
evidence is insignificant compared to the substantial
evidence in the record that supports the physicians'
“within the province of the ALJ to credit portions of a
treating physician's report while declining to accept
other portions of the same report, where the record
contain[s] conflicting opinions on the same medical
condition.” Pavia v. Colvin, No. 6:14-cv-06379
(MAT), 2015 WL 4644537, at 4 (W.D.N.Y. Aug. 4, 2015) (citing
Veino v. Barnhart, 312 F.3d 578, 588 (2d Cir.
2002)). In Dr. Feldman's written opinion, he finds that
Ms. Esposito can neither sit, stand, nor walk for more than
ten continuous minutes without resting for twenty minutes
afterwards, and he ultimately concludes that Ms.
Esposito's pain would “most likely prevent
her” from ever finding full- or part-time employment.
R. 1224, 1244. In Dr. Grier's written opinion, she
concludes that Ms. Esposito suffers from “extreme
impairment” with respect to coping with symptoms of
depression and appropriately regulating emotions. R. 1242.
conclusions are contradicted by substantial evidence in the
record. As explained in the Recommended Ruling, the record
evidence cited by the ALJ shows “adequate control of
Plaintiff's pain with medication and treatment”;
“numerous physical examinations with normal findings
and mild to moderate imaging studies”; “treatment
notes indicating Plaintiff's improvement with
therapy”; and a list of reported daily activities that
are “inconsistent with the extreme limitations”
to which the treating physicians opined. Recommended Ruling
at 5; R. 955, 957, 1080, 1197, 1200, 1203. While Ms. Esposito
correctly notes that there is also evidence in the record
suggesting that Ms. Esposito suffers from significant
physical and social limitations, see, e.g., R. 609,
929-30, these limitations are appropriately reflected in the
ALJ's conclusion that Ms. Esposito is “unable to
perform any past relevant work” and that she “is
limited to work that involves routine tasks and only
superficial and incidental interaction with the public or
co-workers.” R. 190, 195. Ms. Esposito argues that the
Recommended Ruling failed to acknowledge the record evidence
that was consistent with the treating physicians'
conclusions; however, Ms. Esposito has not identified any
binding case law requiring the ALJ to outline every aspect of
the record that could potentially support the treating
physicians' conclusions before declining to give
controlling weight to those conclusions.
Court concludes that the ALJ and the Recommended Ruling
appropriately declined to give controlling weight to the
opinions of Ms. Esposito's treating physicians, Dr.
Feldman and Dr. Grier, in light of the inconsistencies
between those opinions and the substantial evidence in the
record cited by the ALJ. The ALJ identified “good
reasons” not to give controlling weight to the opinions
of Dr. Feldman and Dr. Green; thus, the Court chooses not to
depart from the Recommended Ruling on this basis. See
Burgess, 537 F.3d 117, 129-30 (2d Cir. 2008) (failure to
provide “‘good reasons' for not crediting the
opinion of a claimant's treating physician” can be
a basis for remand (quoting Snell v. Apfel, 177 F.3d
128, 133 (2d Cir. 1999))).
Step Five Analysis
Ms. Esposito argues that the ALJ and the Recommended Ruling
improperly concluded that she could still perform the job of
“Surveillance System Monitor, ” listed in the
Dictionary of Occupational Titles at Section
379.367-010. According to Ms. Esposito, the vocational
expert's testimony incorrectly overstated the number of
nationally available jobs in this position. She also argues
that the testimony of the vocational expert contradicted the
description of this position under the Dictionary of
Occupational Titles; thus, the ALJ should not have relied on
the vocational expert's testimony when conducting its
“Step Five” analysis. The Court disagrees.
administrative proceeding, the vocational expert testified
that approximately 997, 000 jobs were available nationwide in
the position of “Surveillance System Monitor, ” a
sedentary position with a reasoning level of 3 under the
Dictionary of Occupational Titles. R. 268. Ms. Esposito
challenges this figure, citing to a 2012 Second Circuit case
in which this same position was cited as having only 25, 000
available jobs nationwide. Daniels v. Astrue, No. 10
CIV 6510 RWS, 2012 WL 1415322 at *17 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 18, 2012)
(describing “surveillance system monitor” as a
job “for which there were 1, 236 jobs in the New York
City area and 25, 000 jobs nationally”); Pl. Obj. at 10
(arguing that the “Court should be troubled by”
purposes of a “Step Five” analysis, the ALJ may
consider work in the national economy that “exists in
significant numbers[.]” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1566.
“Courts have generally held that what constitutes a
‘significant' number is fairly minimal.”
Haskins v. Commissioner ofSocial Sec.,
Civ. No. 5:05-CV-292 (DNH/RFT), 2008 WL 5113781 at *11
(N.D.N.Y. Sept. 11, 2008). As noted in the Recommended
Ruling, “the Commissioner need show only one job
existing in the national economy that [claimant] can
perform.” Bavaro v. Astrue, 413 F.App'x
382, 384 (2d Cir. 2011). Whether the position of
“Surveillance System Monitor” is available
nationally at the level of 997, 000 jobs, as indicated by the
vocational expert in the administrative proceeding, or at a
the lower level of 25, 000 jobs, as indicated by the