United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RULING ON CROSS MOTIONS TO REMAND AND AFFIRM DECISION
OF THE COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY
Jeffrey Alker Meyer United States District Judge.
Daniel Caciopoli asserts that he has been disabled and unable
to work since November 1, 2006, due to a number of
conditions, including chronic neck, back, and knee pain;
migraines; and depression. He brought this action pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review of a final decision
of defendant Commissioner of Social Security, who denied
plaintiff's claim for disability benefits and
supplemental security income. For the reasons explained
below, I will grant plaintiff's motion to remand the
Commissioner's decision (Doc. #15), and deny
defendant's motion to affirm the Commissioner's
decision (Doc. #21).
Court refers to the transcripts provided by the Commissioner.
See Doc. #11-1 through Doc. #11-21. Plaintiff filed
an application for disability benefits and supplemental
security income on May 16, 2011, alleging disability
beginning November 1, 2006. Plaintiff's claim was denied
initially and again upon reconsideration. Plaintiff then
appeared and testified at a hearing before ALJ Ronald Thomas
on October 3, 2013. The ALJ found plaintiff not disabled in a
decision dated January 28, 2014. Doc. #11-4 at 81-99. The
Appeals Council remanded plaintiff's claim back to the
ALJ for a new hearing and decision. Id. at 107-09.
The Appeals Council directed the ALJ to correct a number of
deficiencies on remand, including to give further
consideration to the treating and non-treating source
opinions, as well as to give further consideration to
plaintiff's RFC “and provide [a] rationale with
specific references to evidence of record in support of
assessed limitations.” Id. at 109.
April 23, 2015, the same ALJ held a second hearing, at which
plaintiff again testified. The ALJ issued a second decision
on July 17, 2015, holding that plaintiff was not disabled
within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Doc. #11-3 at
93-118. After the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's
request for review of the ALJ's second decision,
plaintiff filed this federal action.
Court may “set aside the Commissioner's
determination that a claimant is not disabled only if the
factual findings are not supported by substantial evidence or
if the decision is based on legal error.” Burgess
v. Astrue, 537 F.3d 117, 127 (2d Cir. 2008) (internal
quotation marks and citation omitted); see also 42
U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence is “more
than a mere scintilla” and “means such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.” Lesterhuis v. Colvin,
805 F.3d 83, 87 (2d Cir. 2015) (per curiam). Absent
a legal error, this Court must uphold the Commissioner's
decision if it is supported by substantial evidence and even
if this Court might have ruled differently had it considered
the matter in the first instance. See Eastman v.
Barnhart, 241 F.Supp.2d 160, 168 (D. Conn. 2003).
qualify as disabled, a claimant must show that he is unable
“to engage in any substantial gainful activity by
reason of any medically determinable physical or mental
impairment which . . . has lasted or can be expected to last
for a continuous period of not less than 12 months, ”
and “the impairment must be ‘of such severity
that [the claimant] is not only unable to do his previous
work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work
experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful
work which exists in the national economy.'”
Robinson v. Concentra Health Servs., Inc., 781 F.3d
42, 45 (2d Cir. 2015) (quoting 42 U.S.C. §§
423(d)(1)(A), 423(d)(2)(A)). “[W]ork exists in the
national economy when it exists in significant numbers either
in the region where [a claimant] live[s] or in several other
regions of the country, ” and “when there is a
significant number of jobs (in one or more occupations)
having requirements which [a claimant] [is] able to meet with
[his] physical or mental abilities and vocational
qualifications.” 20 C.F.R. § 416.966(a)-(b);
see also Kennedy v. Astrue, 343 F. App'x 719,
722 (2d Cir. 2009).
evaluate a claimant's disability, and to determine
whether he qualifies for benefits, the agency engages in the
following five-step process:
First, the Commissioner considers whether the claimant is
currently engaged in substantial gainful activity. Where the
claimant is not, the Commissioner next considers whether the
claimant has a “severe impairment” that
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 that is
listed [in the so-called “Listings”] ¶ 20
C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1. If the claimant has a
listed impairment, the Commissioner will consider the
claimant disabled without considering vocational factors such
as age, education, and work experience; the Commissioner
presumes that a claimant who is afflicted with a listed
impairment is unable to perform substantial gainful activity.
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 burden then shifts to the
Commissioner to determine whether there is other work which
the claimant could perform.
Cage v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 692 F.3d 118,
122-23 (2d Cir. 2012) (alteration in original) (citation
omitted); see also 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(a)(4)(i)-(v). In applying this framework, if a
claimant can be found disabled or not disabled at a
particular step, a decision will be made without proceeding
to the next step. See 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(a)(4). The claimant bears the burden of proving his
case at steps one through four; at step five, the burden
shifts to the Commissioner to demonstrate that there is other
work that the claimant can perform. See McIntyre v.
Colvin, 758 F.3d 146, 150 (2d Cir. 2014).
decision of July 17, 2015, the ALJ held that plaintiff was
not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act.
At step one, the ALJ determined that plaintiff had not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 1,
2006. Doc. #11-3 at 96. At step two, the ALJ found that
plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments:
degenerative disc disease of the cervical and lumbar spine,
degenerative joint disease in the bilateral knees, headaches,
affective disorders, and polysubstance dependence disorder.
three, the ALJ determined that plaintiff did not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled the severity of one of the listed
impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
Ibid. In particular, the ALJ considered listings
1.02, 1.04, 11.03, 12.04, and 12.09, and concluded ...