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
James Jazina, Jr. asserts that he is disabled and unable to
work, due primarily to chronic neck and back pain. He has
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
supplemental security income. For the reasons explained
below, I will grant plaintiff's motion to remand the
decision of the Commissioner (Doc. #15), and deny
defendant's motion to affirm the decision of the
Commissioner (Doc. #18).
Court refers to the transcripts provided by the Commissioner.
See Doc. #13-1 through Doc. #13-11. Plaintiff filed
an application for supplemental security income on March 24,
2014, alleging disability beginning August 29, 2013.
Plaintiff was 52 years old at the time of his application. He
previously worked as a computer technician and mechanic but
has not worked since being laid off in 2008. Plaintiff filed
a prior application for disability insurance benefits and
supplemental security income in July 2011, alleging
disability since January 2009, but was found not disabled by
an administrative law judge in 2013. Doc. #13-4 at 5-20.
current claim for supplemental security income was denied
initially and upon reconsideration. Plaintiff then appeared
and testified at a hearing before Administrative Law Judge
(ALJ) Louis Bonsangue on November 4, 2015. Plaintiff was
represented before the ALJ by both an attorney and a
non-attorney representative. A vocational expert also
testified at the hearing. On March 30, 2016, the ALJ issued a
decision holding that plaintiff was not disabled within the
meaning of the Social Security Act. Doc. #13-3 at 24-33.
After the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for
review, plaintiff filed this federal action.
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 Fed.Appx. 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, an ALJ can
find a claimant to be disabled or not disabled at a
particular step and can make a decision without proceeding to
the next step. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4).
The claimant bears the burden of proving the 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).
here concluded 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 March 24, 2014. Doc. #13-3 at 26. At
step two, the ALJ found that plaintiff suffered from one
severe impairment: degenerative disc disease of the cervical
and lumbar spines. Ibid. The ALJ determined a number
of plaintiff's other conditions to be non-severe
impairments, including plaintiff's left eye cataract,
history of traumatic brain injury, right shoulder pain, and
right hearing loss. Id. at 27.
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. The ALJ considered listing 1.04 (spine
disorders) in particular and concluded that plaintiff's
impairment did not satisfy the criteria of this listing.
four, the ALJ found that plaintiff had “the residual
functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20
C.F.R. 416.967(b), ” but with the following additional
limitations: plaintiff “can occasionally climb ramps
and stairs, but he can never climb ladders, ropes, or
scaffolds. He can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch,
and crawl. He can occasionally finger bilaterally, and he can
occasionally reach bilaterally.” Id. at 28. In
formulating this residual functional capacity (RFC), the ALJ
gave “significant weight” to the assessments of
two state agency medical consultants, while giving only
“partial weight” to the opinions of
plaintiff's treating physiatrist and treating primary
care physician. Id. at 30-31.
also found plaintiff's testimony about his symptoms to be
only partially credible. Specifically, the ALJ found that
while plaintiff's “medically determinable
impairments could reasonably be expected to cause the alleged
symptoms, ” his “statements concerning the
intensity, persistence and limiting effects of these symptoms
are not entirely consistent with the evidence . . . .”
Id. at 28. Also at step four, the ALJ concluded that
plaintiff could not perform any of his past relevant work.
Id. at 31.
five, after considering plaintiff's age, education, work
experience, and RFC, the ALJ concluded that jobs that
plaintiff can perform exist in significant numbers in the
national economy. This finding relied on the testimony of
vocational expert Renee Jubrey, who testified at the
administrative hearing that an individual with
plaintiff's RFC and limitations (as determined by the
ALJ) could perform the requirements of representative
occupations such as school bus monitor, counter ...