United States District Court, D. Connecticut
FRANK A. ZAYAS, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, , ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY Defendant.
RULING ON THE PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO REVERSE AND
THE DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO AFFIRM THE DECISION OF THE
Dominic J. Squatrito United States District Judge
an administrative appeal following the denial of an
application filed by the plaintiff, Frank A. Zayas
(“Zayas”), for disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”). It is brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
now moves for an order reversing the decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”). In the alternative, Zayas seeks
an order remanding his case for a rehearing. The
Commissioner, in turn, has moved for an order affirming her
issues presented are whether the ALJ erred: (1) in assessing
the medical evidence in the record; (2) in determining
Zayas's residual functional capacity (“RFC”);
and (3) in concluding, on the basis of testimony from a
vocational expert, that Zayas was capable of making a
successful adjustment to other work that existed in
significant numbers in the national economy. For the
following reasons, Zayas's motion for an order reversing
or remanding the Commissioner's decision is denied, and
the Commissioner's motion for an order affirming that
decision is granted.
about May 25, 2010, Zayas filed an application for disability
benefits alleging a disability onset date of December 18,
2008, and continuing through December 31, 2013, the last
insured date. On August 5, 2010, a disability
adjudicator in the Social Security Administration denied his
initial request for DIB benefits and thereafter denied his
request for reconsideration.
February 13, 2012, Zayas appeared with counsel for a hearing
before an ALJ and the ALJ subsequently issued a decision
denying benefits. On March 28, 2013, the Appeals Council
vacated the ALJ's decision and remanded the case back to
the ALJ for the following reason:
The Administrative Law Judge found the claimant had the
residual functional capacity to perform light work except he
was limited to occasional bending, stooping, twisting,
squatting, kneeling, crawling, climbing, and balancing, was
able to interact on an occasional basis with the public,
coworkers and supervisors, and was able to perform simple and
routine tasks with occasional supervision (Finding No. 5).
However, there is no vocational evidence in the record
regarding the extent to which the claimant's limitations
erode the occupational base for light work.
(Doc. # 13-5, at 51, p. 666).
second hearing was held by the ALJ on April 16, 2014. On
September 25, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision denying
benefits. On February 22, 2016, the Appeals Council denied
Zayas's request for review of that decision thereby
making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the
Commissoner. This appeal followed.
who was born on June 3, 1973, has a high school education.
His past relevant work was as a residential care aide, a
warehouse worker, and a mixing machine operator. His most
recent job, which ended in late 2008, was “taking care
of [the] mentally challenged.” (Doc. # 13-4, at 335, p.
594). He did not leave that job because of any mental or
physical health issues, but because “they had me in - -
in an investigation, in the job, and they (INAUDIBLE) to fire
presented to his primary care physician, Helar Campos, M.D.
(“Campos”), on March 10, 2009, complaining of
lower back pain with numbness and foot pain. He reported that
the pain was worse when he sat for long hours. Upon
examination, Campos noted positive straight-leg raising on
the right side, normal gait, and normal muscle power. Campos
saw Zayas again three days later and prescribed Percocet for
his back pain.
April 2009 Campos saw Zayas on a follow-up visit and
recommended that he “start doing diet and exercise to
see if we can manage” his morbid obesity. (Doc. # 13-9,
at 16, p. 1009). Campos also prescribed a cane in response to
Zayas's complaints of difficulty walking. On May 27,
2009, Zayas complained to Campos of knee pain and was noted
to have an abnormal gait and range of motion. In June 2009
Campos noted that Zayas's back pain was stable and that
his gait was within normal limits with no instability.
2009 MRI of Zayas's lumbar spine indicated “[m]ild
multilevel lumbar facetDJD [degenerative joint disease],
moderate at ¶ 5-S1.” (Id. at 138, p.
1131). Campos reviewed the MRI report and opined that
Zayas's back pain was due to his obesity. He referred
Zayas to a nutritionist and a physical therapist and noted
that the long-term plan was for Zayas to lose weight,
strengthen his muscles, and get off pain medication. Zayas
went for physical therapy for his back pain in June and July
2009. On September 22, 2009, he met with a nutritionist. He
reported to the nutritionist that he was able to exercise on
an elliptical trainer for thirty minutes a day and was
lifting weights five days a week.
3, 2010, Dr. Daniel Glenney (“Glenney”), an
orthopedist, examined Zayas's right knee and diagnosed
bursitis. He found mild tenderness medially and noted that
x-rays of the knee showed minor spurring but were otherwise
normal. Glenney prescribed medication for pain. Zayas
continued to complain of knee pain, and on July 9, 2010,
Glenney administered an injection to Zayas's knee.
connection with Zayas's application for DIB benefits,
Ronald S. Jolda, D.O. (“Jolda”) conducted a
consultative examination of Zayas on July 26, 2010. At that
time, Zayas reported that he suffered from the following
conditions: diabetes, anxiety, arthritis in his back and left
knee, back pain, bipolar disorder, depression, and sleep
apnea. Zayas told Jolda that his left knee bothered him all
of the time and snapped when he walked. He was vague as to
how far he could walk and stated that he was not receiving
treatment for his knee. Upon examination, Zayas walked slowly
and leaned heavily on his cane. He refused to squat, put his
full weight on each leg, or stand on his toes and heels
because he said it would hurt too much. Jolda's report
indicates that Zayas made a “half hearted” effort
during range of motion testing and demonstrated limited range
of motion in his lumbar spine. (Doc. # 13-10, at 5, p. 1252).
Zayas screamed out in pain upon light palpation to the lumbar
area, and, according to Jolda, Zayas's pain was
“out of proportion to [the doctor's]
findings.” (Id.). Jolda found full range of
motion and full strength in Zayas's arms and legs with
the exception of some limitation in his left knee joint.
Jolda concluded that Zayas “may have some mild
arthritis of the left knee, ” and that Zayas's
“pain complaint and presentation is way out of
line.” (Id. at 6, p. 1253).
September 2010 MRI of Zayas's lumbar spine found
degenerative disc disease and facet joint degenerative joint
disease. The Neurosurgery Progress Note regarding that MRI,
which was authored by Hilary C. Onyiuke, M.D.
(“Onyiuke”), indicated that the MRI of
Zayas's lumbar spine was “essentially normal”
and that Zayas did not require surgical intervention at that
point. Onyiuke opined that Zayas's weight was “the
cause of his low back pain.” (Id. at 34, p.
27, 2012, after he had run out of pain medication, Zayas went
to the Backus Hospital Emergency Department complaining of
non-radiating lower back pain and knee pain. Upon
examination, his straight leg raising was normal, although he
exhibited some tenderness and decreased range of motion.
Zayas was diagnosed with chronic pain and referred to his
primary care physician.
January 28, 2014, Megan Stone, A.P.R.N.
(“Stone”), examined Zayas. She found muscle
spasms and moderately reduced range of motion in his lumbar
spine. In a Medical Source Statement (Physical) prepared on
that same date, Stone determined the following concerning
Zayas's ability to do work-related activities:
Lift and Carry:
Occasionally up to 10 lbs., Never over 10 lbs.
One hour at a time, seven hours in an 8 hour workday
Thirty minutes at a time, two hours in an 8 hour
Thirty minutes at a time, two hours in an 8 hour
Occasionally Push/Pull: Occasionally
(Doc. # 13-11, at 221-24, pp. 1726-29).
April 3, 2009, Zayas reported to Campos that he was
“having trouble with his depression.” (Doc. #
13-9, at 15, p. 1008). Zayas saw Campos again on April 6,
2009, and stated that he was “extremely
depressed” and had a gun (Id. at 18, p. 1011).
Campos referred Zayas to the emergency room and he was
admitted to the psychiatric service. A few days after Zayas
visited the emergency room, Campos noted that hospital staff
had prescribed Seroquel, Klonopin, and Celexa for his
depression. By May 2009 Campos noted that Zayas's
depression was well-controlled with these new medications. On
July 29, 2009, Campos noted that with respect to his
depression, Zayas was “seeing a psychiatrist and doing
well.” (Doc. # 13-10, at 96, p. 1343).
22, 2009, Zayas began mental health treatment at United
Community and Family Services (“UCFS”). With the
exception of a six-month period during which he was
incarcerated, Zayas was engaged in regular mental health
therapy for over six years at UCFS.
September 2012 Zayas was referred by his UCFS therapist,
Julia Israelski, LCSW (“Israelski”), to the
Backus Hospital partial hospital program due to increasing
depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. Zayas began
attending the partial hospital program on October 1, 2012,
and his attendance at the program was noted to be
“quite sporadic.” (Id. at 230, p. 1477).
While in the program, Zayas learned new coping strategies and
noted that his chronic pain decreased as he became more
active. During this time, Zayas reported participating in
activities such as riding his motorcycle, going out to
dinner, and driving his family to Pennsylvania. Zayas was
discharged from the partial hospital program back to UCFS on
November 12, 2012. At the time of his discharge, Zayas
“stated that he was not experiencing any psychotic
symptoms.” (Id. at 231, p. 1478). The
prognosis for Zayas noted in the partial hospital program
Discharge Summary was “good.” (Id. at
232, p. 1479).
February 19, 2013, Israelski referred Zayas back to the
Backus Hospital emergency department due to increased
depression, auditory hallucinations, and suicidal ideation.
He was admitted to the hospital on a voluntary basis for
three days and his medication was adjusted. The Discharge
Summary relating to this admission states that at the time of
his discharge Zayas was “demonstrating adequate insight
and judgment, brightening of his affect and there is no
suicidal or self-destructive ideation.” (Doc. # 13-11,
at 102, p. 1607).
Medical Report for Incapacity dated November 12, 2013,
Israelski opined that Zayas was not “capable of simple,
competitive employment at this time” due to his
“depression [with] psychotic features, apathy, low self
esteem, low frustration tolerance, easily overwhelmed,
anxiety, panic attacks, racing thoughts, isolates when
stressed, fleeting suicidal/homicidal ...