United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RULING ON PENDING MOTIONS
WILLIAM I. GARFINKEL UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
an administrative appeal following the denial of the
plaintiff, Jorge Rodriguez's, application for Title II
disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). It is
brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
now moves for an order reversing the decision of the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the
“Commissioner”), or in the alternative, an order
remanding his case for a rehearing. [Doc. # 16]. The
Commissioner, in turn, has moved for an order affirming her
decision. [Doc. # 17]. For the reasons that follow, the
Commissioner's decision is affirmed.
district court reviewing a final . . . decision [of the
Commissioner of Social Security] pursuant to section 205(g)
of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), is
performing an appellate function.” Zambrana v.
Califano, 651 F.2d 842 (2d Cir. 1981). “The
findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any
fact, if supported by substantial evidence, [are] conclusive
. . . .” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Accordingly, the
district court may not make a de novo determination
of whether a plaintiff is disabled in reviewing a denial of
disability benefits. Id.; Wagner v. Sec'y of
Health & Human Servs., 906 F.2d 856, 860 (2d Cir.
1990). Rather, the court's function is to first ascertain
whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal principles
in reaching her conclusion, and then whether the decision is
supported by substantial evidence. Johnson v. Bowen,
817 F.2d 983, 985 (2d Cir. 1987). Therefore, absent legal
error, a decision of the Commissioner cannot be set aside if
it is supported by substantial evidence. Berry v.
Schweiker, 675 F.2d 464, 467 (2d Cir. 1982). Further, if
the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial
evidence, that decision will be sustained, even where there
may also be substantial evidence to support the
plaintiff's contrary position. Schauer v.
Schweiker, 675 F.2d 55, 57 (2d Cir. 1982).
evidence is “‘such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.'” Williams v. Bowen, 859 F.2d
255, 258 (2d Cir. 1988) (quoting Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). Substantial evidence
must be “more than a scintilla or touch of proof here
and there in the record.” Williams, 859 F.2d
filed his DIB application on March 18, 2013, alleging a
disability onset date of November 30, 2006. His date last
insured is December 31, 2011. Plaintiff's claims were
denied at both the initial and reconsideration levels.
Thereafter, Plaintiff appeared and testified at a hearing
before administrative law judge Sharda Singh (the
“ALJ”) on February 25, 2015. On April 22, 2015,
the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff's claims. The
Appeals Council denied review of the ALJ's decision,
making it the final decision of the Commissioner. This action
was forty-four years old on the date his DIB application was
filed. He has a high school education and has completed
training to be a nurse's aide. Plaintiff has past work
experience as a delivery driver and as a nurse's aide. In
2006, Plaintiff suffered a work-related back injury for which
he had two surgeries. Plaintiff has not worked since this
injury. In accordance with the Court's scheduling order,
the parties stipulated to Plaintiff's medical background
as presented in the brief accompanying Plaintiff's
motion. [Doc. # 16]. The Court adopts these facts and
incorporates them by reference herein.
The ALJ's Decision
followed the sequential evaluation process for assessing
disability claims. At Step One, the ALJ found that Plaintiff
had not engaged in substantial gainful activity from the
alleged onset date through the date last insured. (R. 25). At
Step Two, the ALJ found Plaintiff's lower back surgery to
be a severe impairment. (R. 25). At Step Three, the ALJ found
that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of
one of the listed impairments. (R. 25-26). Next, the ALJ
determined Plaintiff retains the following residual
Plaintiff can perform sedentary work except he can never
climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; can occasionally climb
ramps and stairs; can occasionally balance, stoop, kneel,
crouch, and crawl; and should avoid concentrated exposure to
vibrations, hazards, and extreme cold or heat.
(R. 26-31). At Step Four, the ALJ found that through the date
last insured, Plaintiff was unable to perform his past work.
(R. 31). Finally, at Step Five, the ALJ relied on the
testimony of the Vocational Expert (“VE”) to find
that there were jobs existing in significant numbers in the
national economy during the relevant period that Plaintiff
could have performed. (R. 31-32). Specifically, the VE
testified that Plaintiff could have performed the positions
of document preparer, order clerk, and surveillance system
monitor. (R. 32). Accordingly, the ALJ found Plaintiff not to
Social Security Act defines disability as “[an]
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 for a continuous period of not less than 12
months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1). In order to
determine whether ...