United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RULING ON THE PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO REVERSE AND
THE DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO AFFIRM THE DECISION OF THE
Michael P. Shea, U.S.D.J.
an administrative appeal following the denial of Laura Lee
Machnicz's application for disability insurance benefits.
Ms. Machnicz argues that the Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) erred in concluding that her impairments
did not meet or medically equal a listed impairment,
specifically Listing 11.13, “Muscular dystrophy with
disorganization of motor function.” Although I find
that the ALJ failed to specifically explain why Ms.
Machnicz's impairment did not meet or medically equal
Listing 11.13, I nevertheless conclude that the decision was
supported by substantial evidence. I therefore AFFIRM.
Machnicz filed an application for disability benefits on
January 7, 2013. (Pl.'s Memo, ECF No. 19 at 1; Def.'s
Memo, ECF No. 22-1 at 2.) On June 24, 2013, the Social
Security Administration denied her initial request for
disability benefits and thereafter denied her request for
reconsideration. (Id.) Ms. Machnicz appeared with
counsel for a hearing before ALJ Sharda Singh on December 19,
2014. (Id.) On March 13, 2015, the ALJ issued a
decision denying benefits. (Id.)
found that Ms. Machnicz was a 40-year-old woman at the time
of the alleged disability onset date, with severe impairments
of back injury, muscular dystrophy, and depression. (ALJ
Decision, Tr. 15.) She determined that Ms. Machnicz did not
have a listed impairment, noting that she had considered all
physical listings, including Listings 1.02 (major dysfunction
of a joint) and 1.04 (disorders of the spine), as well as a
mental impairment listing, Listing 12.04 (affective
disorders). (Id. at 15-17.) Next, the ALJ determined
that Ms. Machnicz had the residual functional capacity
perform ‘light work' as defined in 20 C.F.R. §
404.1567(b) except she can only stand and walk for 4 hours in
an 8-hour workday. She can never climb ladders, ropes, or
scaffolds. She can occasionally climb ramps and stairs,
balance, stop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. She must avoid
hazards. She is limited to understanding, remembering, and
carrying out simple, routing, and repetitive noncomplex
(Id. at 17-21.) Finally, the ALJ found that although
Ms. Machnicz could not perform past relevant work, there were
jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national
economy that she could perform based on her age, RFC, work
experience, and education, and therefore she was not disabled
within the meaning of the Social Security Act. (Id.
at 21-23.) Specific facts and portions of the ALJ's
decision will be discussed below as necessary.
March 17, 2016, the appeals council denied Ms. Machnicz's
request for review, thereby making the ALJ's decision the
final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration (“Commissioner”). (Pl.'s Memo
at 1; Def.'s Memo at 2.) This appeal followed. Ms.
Machnicz has filed a motion for an order reversing the
decision of the Commissioner, and the Commissioner, in turn,
has moved for an order affirming the decision.
Social Security Act establishes that benefits are payable to
individuals who have a disability, “[an] inability to
engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any
medically determinable physical or mental
impairment....” 42 U.S.C. § 423(a)(1), (d)(1). The
Commissioner delegates her authority to make fact findings
and disability benefits decisions to ALJs, who must follow a
five-step evaluation process.
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)
(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.
Machnicz argues that the ALJ erred in determining that her
condition did not meet or medically equal a listed
impairment, because she failed to consider Listing 11.13,
“muscular dystrophy with disorganization of motor
function.” Ms. Machnicz does not dispute the
ALJ's determinations at other steps of the process, or
her factual findings.
Machnicz is correct that the ALJ did not mention or discuss
Listing 11.13 in her decision. While the ALJ stated that she
had considered “all physical listings” and made a
general finding that “no acceptable medical source has
mentioned findings equivalent in severity to the criteria of
any listed impairments, individually or in combination,
” she only explicitly walked through the criteria of
Listings 1.02, 1.04, and 12.04. (ALJ Decision, Tr. 15-16.)
The failure to mention Listing 11.13 does not require a
remand, however, if other portions of the ALJ's decision
show that substantial evidence supports the conclusion that