United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RULING RE: MOTION FOR ORDER TO REVERSE FINAL DECISION
OF COMMISSIONER (DOC. NO. 26) & MOTION FOR ORDER AFFIRMING
THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION (DOC. NO. 34)
C. Hall United States District Judge
Deborah Lee Prince (“Prince”) brings this appeal
under section 405(g) of title 42 of the United States Code
from the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social
Security Administration (“SSA”), which denied her
application for Title II disability insurance benefits and
Title XVI supplemental security income. See
Complaint (“Compl.”) (Doc. No. 1). Prince seeks
either reversal or remand of the Decision rendered by
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Richard A.
DiBiccaro, which affirmed the Commissioner's denial.
See Motion for Order to Reverse Final Decision of
Commissioner (“Mot. to Reverse”) (Doc. No. 26).
The Commissioner cross-moves for an order affirming that
Decision. See Motion for Order Affirming the
Commissioner's Decision (“Mot. to Affirm”)
(Doc. No. 34).
reasons set forth below, the Motion for Order to Reverse
Final Decision of Commissioner is GRANTED.
The Motion for Order Affirming the Commissioner's
Decision is DENIED.
PROCEDURAL HISTORY 
applied for disability and supplemental security income
benefits on February 15, 2013, alleging a disability onset
date of September 26, 2008. See Stipulation of Facts
(“Stip. of Facts”) (Doc. No. 26) at 1. The
Commissioner denied Prince's application initially on May
21, 2013, and upon reconsideration on July 21, 2013.
See Pl.'s Mem. in Supp. of Mot. for Order to
Reverse (“Pl.'s Mem.”) (Doc. No. 26) at 2.
Prince requested a hearing with an ALJ, which was held before
ALJ DiBiccaro on July 9, 2014. See Stip. of Facts
¶ 1. A supplemental hearing was later held on November
14, 2014. See id.
January 30, 2015, ALJ DiBiccaro issued an unfavorable
decision for Prince, affirming the Commissioner's denial
and finding that Prince was not disabled. See Id.
Specifically, ALJ DiBiccaro found that Prince's
impairments did not meet or equal any listing, see
id. at 2, and that, with her level of residual
functional capacity (“RFC”), there were jobs in
the national economy that she could perform, see id.
Prince requested review by the Appeals Court, which denied
the request on June 8, 2016. See id. at 1-2.
Following that denial, ALJ DiBiccaro's January 30, 2015
Decision became a final decision reviewable by this court.
See id. Prince then filed this appeal on August 29,
2016. See Compl.
court adopts the facts as stated in the Plaintiff's
Stipulation of Facts, to which the Commissioner stipulated.
See Mem. in Supp. of Mot. to Affirm
(“Def.'s Mem.”) (Doc. No. 34-1) at 2. Only
those facts relevant to the issues raised in the Motions
before the court are set forth below.
time of the July 9, 2014 administrative hearing, Prince was
51-years-old and was living in a camper on private property.
See Stip. of Facts ¶ 5; Certified Transcript of
Record (“R.”) at 381. Prince last worked as a
certified nurse's assistant (“CNA”) at
Gaylord Hospital, but was no longer able to work after
September 26, 2006, when she was injured while trying to
assist a patient. See id. at 7; R. at 582. The onset
date of Prince's alleged disability occurred two years
later, on September 26, 2008. See R. at 311.
physicians have diagnosed her with carpal tunnel syndrome,
bilateral ulnar nerve dysfunction, cervical degenerative disc
disease, cervicogenic migraines, and neuropathy. See
Stip. of Facts ¶ 7-22. Prince's medical issues
appear to have begun in 1989, when she tripped over a bicycle
and her arm went through a glass window. See id. at
7; R. at 384. After the accident, she underwent
reconstruction of her hand, forearm, and eight flexor tendons
to repair damage to her ulnar nerve, ulnar artery, and
forearm. See Stip. of Facts ¶ 7. Before 2009,
Prince was treated by Dr. Nasir Ramin, Dr. Babu Kumar, and
Dr. Mustapha Kemal. See id. at 7-13. Prince also
attended physical therapy in 2008 for chronic back pain, hand
numbness, and carpal tunnel syndrome. See id. at
8-10. Prince's medical record is interrupted by a gap
from February 2009 until October 2012, when she did not
receive any treatment for her impairments. See id.
at 13. After 2012, Prince established a primary care
relationship with Dr. Muneeb Samma. See id. at
STANDARD OF REVIEW
section 405(g) of title 42 of the United States Code, it is
not a function of the district court to review de
novo the ALJ's decision as to whether the claimant
was disabled. See Schaal v. Apfel, 134 F.3d 496, 501
(2d Cir. 1998). Instead, the court may only set aside an
ALJ's determination as to social security disability if
the decision “is based upon legal error or is not
supported by substantial evidence.” Balsamo v.
Chater, 142 F.3d 75, 79 (2d Cir. 1998). Substantial
evidence requires “more than a mere scintilla, ”
but is a “very deferential standard of review.”
Brault v. Soc. Sec. Admin., Comm'r, 683 F.3d
443, 447-48 (2d Cir. 2012). It requires “such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.” Id. at 448. If the
Commissioner's findings of fact are supported by
substantial evidence, those findings are conclusive, and the
court will not substitute its judgment for the
Commissioner's. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2016); see
also Yancey v. Apfel, 145 F.3d 106, 111 (2d Cir. 1998).
argues that ALJ DiBicarro's Decision should be reversed
or remanded for three reasons. First, she argues that certain
documents that should have been considered by the ALJ were
not in the Record. See Pl.'s Mem. at 8-9.
Second, Prince argues that the ALJ erred by ignoring
testimony from the vocational expert that there was no work
available for her. See id. at 9-10. Third, she
argues that the ALJ erred by not finding several ailments to
be severe, not determining that her combination of
impairments meet or medically equal the listed impairments,
and ignoring impairments that were not found to be severe.
See id. at 5-7.
first argument-that certain medical documents she provided to
her counsel are missing from the Record-is her only argument
that the Record was incomplete. See Pl.'s Mem.
in Reply to the Def.'s Mem. (“Pl.'s
Reply”) (Doc. No. 37) at 2. Although she does not argue
that the ALJ failed to adequately develop the Record in other
respects, in view of the “special solicitude”
courts accorded to pro se litigants, the court will
construe Prince's specific failure to develop the record
claim as encompassing other aspects of the Record the ALJ had
a duty to develop. See Triestman v. Fed. Bureau of
Prisons, 470 F.3d 471, 474 (2d Cir. 2006) (“It is
well established that the submissions of a pro se
litigant must be construed liberally and interpreted
‘to raise the strongest arguments that they
suggest.'”) (quoting Pabon v. Wright, 459
F.3d 241, 248 (2d Cir. 2006)).
review of the Record, the court concludes that the ALJ
committed legal error by failing to adequately develop the
Record to obtain clarification from Prince's treating
physician, and therefore remand is appropriate. Upon remand,
the court suggests that the ALJ should also develop the
Record regarding Prince's explanations for her decision
not to undergo carpal tunnel release and the gap in her
treatment before drawing an adverse inference about her
credibility on either of those bases.
Duty to ...