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Cummings v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

September 30, 2017

LORETTA CUMMINGS, plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, defendant.

          RULING ON THE PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO REVERSE AND/OR REMAND AND THE DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO AFFIRM THE DECISION OF THE COMMISSIONER

          ROBERT A. RICHARDSON, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Loretta Cummings (“plaintiff”), appeals the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“the Commissioner”) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The Commissioner denied plaintiff's application for Social Security Disability Benefits in a decision dated August 25, 2015. (R. 19.). Plaintiff moves for an order reversing the decision, or in the alternative, remanding his case for rehearing. (Dkt. #16.) The Commissioner, in turn, has moved for an order affirming the decision. (Dkt. #17.)

         For the reasons that follow, plaintiff's motion to reverse, or in the alternative, remand is GRANTED. The Commissioner's motion to affirm is DENIED.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY AND BACKGROUND

         On July 29, 2013, plaintiff filed an application for disability benefits, alleging disability beginning February 5, 2010. The claim was initially denied on December 11, 2013, and again denied on reconsideration on March 26, 2014. On May 1, 2014, plaintiff filed a written request for an administrative hearing. An oral hearing on the matter was held on June 8, 2015 before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Matthew Kuperstein. On August 28, 2015, ALJ Kuperstein issued a decision which held that the plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Plaintiff timely requested review by the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review Appeals Council. Plaintiff's request was denied on June 16, 2016. This appeal followed.

         As instructed by the Court, the parties entered a joint stipulation of facts on February 22, 2017, which is incorporated herein by reference. (Dkt. #16-2.)

         STANDARD

         Under the Social Security Act, an individual who is disabled within the meaning of the Act is entitled to benefits. 42 U.S.C. § 423(a)(1). The Act defines “disability” as the “inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A).

         The Social Security regulations set forth a five-step sequential evaluation for adjudicating claims for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income:

First, the [Commissioner] considers whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity. If he is not, the [Commissioner] next considers whether the claimant has a “severe impairment” which significantly limits h[er] 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 which is listed in Appendix 1 of the regulations. If the claimant has such an impairment, the [Commissioner] will consider him 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[1] to perform his past work. Finally, if the claimant is unable to perform his past work, the [Commissioner] then determines whether there is other work which the claimant could perform.

Rivera v. Schweiker, 717 F.2d 719, 722 (2d Cir. 1983); see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. The burden of proof is on the claimant through the first four steps, while the Commissioner bears the burden of proof at the fifth step. Kohler v. Astrue, 546 F.3d 260, 265 (2d Cir. 2008).

         This Court's review of the Commissioner's decision is limited in scope. Specifically, “findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, [are] conclusive . . . .” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Therefore, this Court may set aside a determination “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). 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.” Id.; Greek v. Colvin, 802 F.3d 370, 375 (2d Cir. 2015)(citing Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971).

         Without substituting a court's judgment for that of the Commissioner, review of administrative decisions is intended “to ensure a just and rational result between the government and the claimant . . . .” Williams v. Bowen, 859 F.2d 255, 258 (2d Cir. 1988). To that end, the court seeks to find substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's decision through plenary review of the administrative record. Ibid. If substantial evidence is found, even where there may also be substantial evidence to support the plaintiff's contrary position, the ...


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