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Kallfelz v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

March 31, 2017

ELIZABETH ENRIGHT KALLFELZ, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          RULING ON PENDING MOTIONS

          DONNA F. MARTINEZ, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff, Elizabeth Enright Kallfelz, seeks judicial review of the denial of her applications for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income (“SSI”).[1] Currently pending are plaintiff's motion to reverse the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) (doc. #22) and defendant's motion to affirm the decision of the Commissioner. (Doc. #23.) Counsel filed a statement of facts and medical chronology, which I incorporate by reference.[2] (Doc. #22-2, 23-2.) For the following reasons, plaintiff's motion is DENIED and defendant's motion is GRANTED.[3]

         I. Legal Standard

         The standards for determining an individual's entitlement to DIB and SSI, the Commissioner's five-step framework for evaluating claims, and the district court's review of the final decision of the Commissioner are well-settled. I am following those standards, but do not repeat them here.

         II. Discussion

         Plaintiff makes two arguments: (a) that the ALJ erred at step 3 by finding that plaintiff's impairments do not meet or medically equal a listed impairment; and (b) that the ALJ's RFC determination is not supported by substantial evidence. I consider each argument in turn.

         A. Step Three Determination

         At step 3, the ALJ found that plaintiff's impairments do not meet or medically equal “one of the listed impairments” in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1. (R. 24.) Specifically, he analyzed whether plaintiff's impairments meet or medically equal the severity of Listing 12.04 (affective disorders). Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred by failing to consider whether her schizoaffective disorder satisfies the paragraph “C” criteria of Listing 12.03 (schizophrenic, paranoid and other psychotic disorders).

         First, although the ALJ did not explicitly discuss Listing 12.03 in his decision, the court infers from his step 3 finding that he considered whether plaintiff's impairments meet any “one of the listed impairments, ” not just Listing 12.04. In any event, the paragraph “C” criteria for Listings 12.03 and 12.04 are the same. To meet the paragraph C criteria under either listing, plaintiff must show a medically documented history of a chronic affective disorder/psychotic disorder of at least two years' duration that has caused more than a minimal limitation of ability to do basic work activities, plus one of the following:

1. Repeated episodes of decompensation, each of extended duration; or
2. A residual disease process that has resulted in such marginal adjustment that even a minimal increase in mental demands or change in the environment would be predicted to cause the individual to decompensate; or
3. Current history of one or more years' inability to function outside a highly supportive living arrangement, with an indication of continued need for such an arrangement.

20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1, ¶¶ 12.03(C), 12.04(C).

         While the ALJ found that plaintiff “has experienced one to two episodes of decompensation, each of extended duration” (R. 26), her mental impairments have not caused more than a minimal limitation of her ability to do basic work activities. In this regard, plaintiff is able to go to school, work part-time, live independently, perform household chores, and socialize with friends. (R. 25.) She reported having no difficulty completing tasks or following written instructions. (R. 25.) The ALJ found that plaintiff has only mild restrictions in activities of daily living ...


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