United States District Court, D. Connecticut
ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER'S
W. Thompson, United States District Judge
Agostinho Orfao has appealed under § 205(g) of the
Social Security Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), a
final decision by the Commissioner denying his application
for disability insurance benefits. The plaintiff has filed a
motion for reversal or remand, and the Commissioner has filed
a motion for an order affirming the Commissioner's
decision. For the reasons set forth below, the court
concludes that the findings by the Administrative Law Judge
(ALJ) are supported by substantial evidence, and the
Commissioner's final decision should be 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.§ 405(g), is
performing an appellate function.” Zambrana v.
Califano, 651 F.2d 842, 844 (2d Cir. 1981). The court
may not make a de novo determination of whether a plaintiff
is disabled in reviewing a denial of disability benefits. See
Wagner v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs.,
906 F.2d 856, 860 (2d Cir. 1990). Rather, the court's
function is to ascertain whether the Commissioner applied the
correct legal principles in reaching a conclusion and whether
the decision is supported by substantial evidence. See
Johnson v. Bowen, 817 F.2d 983, 985 (2d Cir. 1987).
The Second Circuit has defined substantial evidence as
“‘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 mere
scintilla or touch of proof here and there in the
record.” Williams, 859 F.2d at 258. Therefore, absent
legal error, this court may not set aside the decision of the
Commissioner if it is supported by substantial evidence. See
Berry v. Schweiker, 675 F.2d 464, 467 (2d Cir.
1982); 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)(“The findings of the
Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported
by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive . . . .”).
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. See Schauer v.
Schweiker, 675 F.2d 55, 57 (2d Cir. 1982).
plaintiff filed an application for a period of disability and
disability insurance benefits, alleging disability beginning
January 24, 2012. His earnings record shows that he had
acquired sufficient quarters of coverage to remain insured
through December 31, 2016, so he was required to establish
disability on or before that date. The ALJ “considered
the following applicable listings: 4.02 (chronic heart
failure), 4.06 (symptomatic congenital heart disease) and
12.06 (anxiety-related disorders).” R. at 18. The
plaintiff does not dispute the ALJ's determination with
respect to his anxiety-related disorders, so that is not
discussed in this order.
reaching his conclusion that the plaintiff had the residual
capacity to perform medium work, subject to certain
limitations, the ALJ took into account the medical evidence
from the plaintiff's treating physicians as well as the
opinions of state agency non-examining medical physicians who
had reviewed the plaintiff's records.
accurately summarized the plaintiff's medical history.
With respect to the earlier portion of that history the
The record fails to support the claimant's allegations in
their entirety. It does establish that he had a history of
heart murmur and in 2009, he was found to have critical
aortic valve stenosis, requiring valve replacement (Exhibit
1F). At the time, his symptoms were increasing shortness of
breath and chest tightness. Post-operatively, he recovered
well, but has complained of persistent shortness of breath.
Cardiology follow-up records indicate that he underwent a
number of diagnostic tests, including EKG, stress test,
cardiac catheterization. His stress test in May 2012 revealed
reversible ischemia, but catheterization revealed only mild
coronary artery disease without any obstructive lesions,
normal heart pressures and oxygen saturations and normal
aortic valve function (Exhibit 3F; duplicate records at
Exhibit 5F). Following this battery of tests, it was
concluded that "it does not appear that any of his
symptoms of chest discomfort and shortness of breath are
secondary to cardiac etiology" (Id. at page 2;
see also Exhibit 5F at page 44). All pulmonary and
cardiac ·testing to determine the cause of his
shortness of breath has been negative and "completely
within normal limits” (Exhibit 5F at pages 9, 56, 57;
see also Exhibit 6F). A chest CT scan was also
normal (Id. at page 70). On repeated exams, he has
no wheezing, rhonchi, crackles, or rales. Breath sounds and
arterial pulses are normal. Heart rate and rhythm are normal
with no abnormal heart sounds or murmurs. He has no lower
extremity edema, cyanosis, distal extremity coldness,
dysphagia, orthopnea, sputum, fevers, chills, or hemoptysis.
R. at 21.
noted that the plaintiff saw Prasad Srinivasan, M.D. in April
2012 for complaints of chest congestion, chest tightness and
cough which had been present for over one year; that the
doctor found that the pulmonary function studies were normal,
taking note of the plaintiff's history of asthma and
allergies; that “[a]llergy testing revealed sensitivity
to dust, mold, dust mites, grasses, trees, weeds, cats and
dogs”, and “Dr. Srinivasan's impression was
bronchial asthma”; and that the doctor discussed with
the plaintiff environmental controls as well as medication.
R. at 22.
noted that when the plaintiff saw his primary care doctor in
August and October 2012 he reported shortness of breath but
was described as stable. He was observed getting winded with
talking and frequently clearing his throat but all other exam
findings were unremarkable. The record reflects that the
plaintiff was repeatedly advised to engage in regular
exercise. When the plaintiff saw his primary care doctor
again in November 2012, after traveling to Portugal for four
weeks and not following a low-fat diet, he did not complain
of any difficulties with traveling overseas for a month and
reported that his shortness of breath was a bit better. When
he saw his cardiologist in February 2013, the doctor noted
that he was “stable from a clinical standpoint”.
Ex. 12F p.3; R. at 543. Then, in September 2013 his
cardiologist described his persistent symptoms as
“allergic”. Ex. 12F pp.5, 7; R. at 545, 547. The
ALJ noted that the plaintiff continued to be seen at
six-month intervals, had remained stable, and that the March
2014 notes of his cardiologist reflect that he had remained
highlighted the fact that “in April 2014, the
[plaintiff]'s primary care doctor noted that he had
‘no complaints of chest pain, sob [shortness of
breath], palpitations, nausea, diarrhea, fever, headache,
dizziness or any other complaints' . . . . Pulmonary
function studies were repeated at this time and were again
‘normal'.” R. at 22 (citing Ex. 14F pp.2,
23). Although the plaintiff contends that “the ALJ
focuses on a single medical visit (Dr. Singh, 4/14/14) in
which the plaintiff apparently reported no complaints”,
Pl.'s Reversal/Remand Mem. (“Pl.'s Mem.”)
(Doc. No. 16-1) at 10, the ALJ does not rely on this visit
but simply highlights it appropriately.
also considered and placed evidentiary weight on the
administrative findings of fact made by the state agency
non-examining medical physicians, which ...