United States District Court, D. Connecticut
JOANNA D. SANTOS
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, ACTING COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION
RULING ON CROSS MOTIONS 
B. FITZSIMMONS, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
December 13, 2017 Plaintiff Joanna Santos brings this action
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §405(g), seeking review of a final
decision of the Commissioner of Social Security which denied
her application for Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI) under Titles II and XVI, respectively, of the
Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §401 et seq. (“the
Act”). Plaintiff has moved to reverse the final
decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. The
Commissioner has moved to affirm.
reasons set forth below, plaintiff's Motion to Reverse
the Decision of the Commissioner [Doc. #21]
is GRANTED in part and
DENIED in part. Defendant's Motion for
an Order Affirming the Decision of the Commissioner
[Doc. #24] is DENIED.
procedural history of this case is not disputed. Plaintiff
filed an application for DIB and SSI on August 23. 2012,
alleging disability as of May 2, 2010. [Certified
Transcript of the Record, Compiled on January 13, 2017, Doc.
#14 (hereinafter “Tr.”) 234, 455-58, 459-67].
Plaintiff alleged disability based on pulmonary embolism,
heart condition, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
(“COPD”), headaches, temporomandibular joint
(“TMJ”) disorder, depression, right leg weakness,
and diabetes. [Tr. 489]. Plaintiff's claims were denied
initially and on reconsideration. [Tr. 234, 360-63, 365-73].
December 30, 2014, plaintiff, represented by counsel,
appeared before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”)
Ronald J. Thomas for an administrative hearing. [Tr. 259-98].
Vocational Expert (“VE”) Joseph Goodman,
testified by telephone at the hearing. [Tr. 290-96]. On April
20, 2015, ALJ Thomas found that plaintiff was not disabled,
and denied her claims. [Tr. 231-58]. Plaintiff's June 22,
2015, request for review of the hearing decision was denied
on September 28, 2016. [Tr. 1-4]. The case is now ripe for
review under 42 U.S.C. §405(g).
represented by counsel, timely filed this action for review
and moves to reverse the Commissioner's decision.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
review of a social security disability determination involves
two levels of inquiry. First, the Court must decide whether
the Commissioner applied the correct legal principles in
making the determination. Second, the Court must decide
whether the determination is supported by substantial
evidence. Balsamo v. Chater, 142 F.3d 75, 79 (2d
Cir. 1998) (citation omitted). Substantial evidence is
evidence that a reasonable mind would accept as adequate to
support a conclusion; it is more than a “mere
scintilla.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S.
389, 401 (1971) (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v.
NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). The reviewing
court's responsibility is to ensure that a claim has been
fairly evaluated by the ALJ. Grey v. Heckler, 721
F.2d 41, 46 (2d Cir. 1983) (citation omitted).
Court does not reach the second stage of review - evaluating
whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's
conclusion - if the Court determines that the ALJ failed to
apply the law correctly. See Norman v. Astrue, 912
F.Supp.2d 33, 70 (S.D.N.Y. 2012) (“The Court first
reviews the Commissioner's decision for compliance with
the correct legal standards; only then does it determine
whether the Commissioner's conclusions were supported by
substantial evidence.”). “Where there is a
reasonable basis for doubt whether the ALJ applied correct
legal principles, application of the substantial evidence
standard to uphold a finding of no disability creates an
unacceptable risk that a claimant will be deprived of the
right to have her disability determination made according to
the correct legal principles.” Johnson v.
Bowen, 817 F.2d 983, 986 (2d Cir. 1987).
crucial factors in any determination must be set forth with
sufficient specificity to enable [a reviewing court] to
decide whether the determination is supported by substantial
evidence.” Ferraris v. Heckler, 728 F.2d 582,
587 (2d Cir. 1984) (alteration added) (citation omitted). The
ALJ is free to accept or reject the testimony of any witness,
but a “finding that the witness is not credible must
nevertheless be set forth with sufficient specificity to
permit intelligible plenary review of the record.”
Williams ex rel. Williams v. Bowen, 859 F.2d 255,
260-61 (2d Cir. 1988) (citation omitted). “Moreover,
when a finding is potentially dispositive on the issue of
disability, there must be enough discussion to enable a
reviewing court to determine whether substantial evidence
exists to support that finding.” Johnston v.
Colvin, Civil Action No. 3:13-CV- 00073(JCH), 2014 WL
1304715, at *6 (D. Conn. Mar. 31, 2014) (internal citations
important to note that, in reviewing the ALJ's decision,
this Court's role is not to start from scratch. “In
reviewing a final decision of the SSA, this Court is limited
to determining whether the SSA's conclusions were
supported by substantial evidence in the record and were
based on a correct legal standard.” Talavera v.
Astrue, 697 F.3d 145, 151 (2d Cir. 2012) (citations and
internal quotation marks omitted). “[W]hether there is
substantial evidence supporting the appellant's view is
not the question here; rather, we must decide whether
substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision.”
Bonet ex rel. T.B. v. Colvin, 523 Fed.Appx. 58, 59
(2d Cir. 2013)(citations omitted) (emphasis in original).
SSA LEGAL STANDARD
the Social Security Act, every individual who is under a
disability is entitled to disability insurance benefits. 42
U.S.C. §423(a)(1). To qualify for supplemental security
income, an individual must be eligible on the basis of income
and resources. 42 U.S.C. §1381a.
considered disabled under the Act and therefore entitled to
benefits, plaintiff must demonstrate that she is unable to
work after a date specified “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); 42 U.S.C.
impairment or impairments must be “of such severity
that [s]he is not only unable to do h[er] previous work but
cannot, considering h[er] age, education, and work
experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful
work which exists in the national economy[.]” 42 U.S.C.
§423(d)(2)(A); see also 20 C.F.R.
§404.1520(c)(alterations added) (requiring that the
impairment “significantly limit ... physical or
mental ability to do basic work activities” to be
considered “severe”); 42 U.S.C.
§1382c(a)(3)(B), 20 C.F.R. §416.920(c).
is a familiar five-step analysis used to determine if a
person is disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §404.1520(a)(4). In
the Second Circuit, the test is described as follows:
First, the Secretary considers whether the claimant is
currently engaged in substantial gainful activity. If [s]he
is not, the Secretary 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
Secretary will consider h[er] disabled without considering
vocational factors such as age, education, and work
experience; the Secretary presumes that a claimant who is
afflicted with a “listed” impairment is unable to
perform substantial gainful activity.
Berry v. Schweiker, 675 F.2d 464, 467 (2d Cir. 1982)
(per curiam). If and only if the claimant does not have a
listed impairment, the Commissioner engages in the fourth and
Assuming the claimant does not have a listed impairment, the
fourth inquiry is whether, despite the claimant's severe
impairment, [s]he has the residual functional capacity to
perform h[er] past work. Finally, if the claimant is unable
to perform h[er] past work, the Secretary then determines
whether there is other work which the claimant could perform.
Under the cases previously discussed, the claimant ...