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Reed v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

October 16, 2017

STACEY A. REED, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          RULING ON PENDING MOTIONS

          WILLIAM I. GARFINKEL UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Stacey Reed has filed this appeal of the adverse decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her application for Supplemental Security Income benefits (“SSI”). Plaintiff now moves, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), for an order reversing this decision, or in the alternative remanding the matter for rehearing. [Doc. # 23]. Defendant has responded with a motion to affirm the decision of the Commissioner. [Doc. # 27]. For the reasons that follow, Plaintiff's motion is granted and the matter shall be remanded for additional proceedings consistent with this ruling.

         Legal Standard

         The standards for determining a claimant's entitlement to disability benefits, the Commissioner's five-step framework for evaluating disability claims, and the district court's review of the Commissioner's final decision are well-established. The Court is following those standards, but does not repeat them here.

         Background

         On December 19, 2012, Plaintiff applied for SSI benefits. Her application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. On November 4, 2013, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge, and on March 16, 2016, a hearing was held before Matthew Kuperstien (the “ALJ”). The ALJ issued a decision on June 22, 2015, finding that Plaintiff was not disabled. Plaintiff then filed a request for review of the ALJ's decision; the Appeals Council denied review, and the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. This action followed.

         Pursuant to the Court's instructions, the parties filed a fact stipulation. [Doc. # 24]. The Court adopts the stipulation and incorporates it by reference herein.

         Discussion

         A. The ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ followed the sequential evaluation process for assessing disability claims. At Step One, he found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged the date of the SSI application. R. 12. At Step Two, the ALJ found the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease of the cervical and lumbar spine; chronic pulmonary disease; sleep related breathing disorder; history of degenerative joint disease / frozen shoulder of bilateral shoulders; bipolar disorder; and post-traumatic stress disorder. R. 12-13. At Step Three, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments. R. 13-15. Next, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retains the following residual functional capacity[1]:

Plaintiff can perform light work. She is limited to only occasional climbing of ramps or stairs, balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, or crawling. She cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolding. She needs to be able to use a cane to ambulate. She cannot constantly stand or walk and is limited to standing and/or walking only 4 to 6 hours cumulatively during the course of an eight hour workday. She is further limited to only occasional overhead reaching bilaterally and to only frequent handling, fingering, or feeling. She needs to avoid concentrated exposure to work that involves vibration, gases, poor ventilation, or hazards such as machinery or heights. She needs to avoid even moderate exposure to cold, heat, humidity, wetness, cigarette smoke, fumes, odors, and dust. She is limited to work that involves understanding, remembering, and carrying out simple instructions and making simple work-related decisions. She is limited to work that does not have strict time or production requirements and can be performed in a nonpublic work setting. She is limited to work that involves brief or superficial interaction with coworkers and supervisors of no more than 20% of an eight hour workday and no teamwork with coworkers.

         R. 15-16. At Step Four, the ALJ found Plaintiff was unable to perform any past relevant work. R. 21-22. Finally, at Step Five, the ALJ relied on the testimony of a vocational expert (“VE”) to conclude that there are jobs in significant numbers in the national economy Plaintiff can perform. R. 22. Specifically, the VE testified that a person with the assessed RFC could perform the positions of price marker, mail clerk, and quality assurance checker. R. 23. Accordingly, the ALJ found Plaintiff not to be disabled.

         B. The ALJ's RFC Finding

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's RFC assessment is not supported by substantial evidence because it does not make a specific finding as to ...


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