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Axon v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

February 28, 2018

BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner Social Security, Defendant.


          Warren W. Eginton Senior United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Michael Robert Axon challenges the denial of his application for Social Security disability benefits and requests reversal of the Commissioner's decision pursuant to sentence four or six of 42 U.S.C § 405(g). Defendant has filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings. For the following reasons, the Court will deny the motion to reverse the Commissioner's decision and will grant the motion for judgment on the pleadings.


         The parties have filed statements of facts that detail plaintiff's medical history. Defendant has stipulated to the facts contained within plaintiff's brief with the exception of any arguments contained within plaintiff's statement of facts. The Court incorporates herein such stipulated facts relative to plaintiff's medical history.

         Plaintiff was born in 1983, graduated from college, and worked as an editor for educational book publishers. He alleges that he became disabled at the age of 29 years, and he filed a claim for disability insurance benefits on September 13, 2013, alleging disability as of November 5, 2012, based on cognitive impairments, profuse sweating, hand and wrist pain, and dizziness. He filed an application for supplemental security income on September 30, 2013. In a decision dated August 28, 2015, the Administrative Law Judge found that plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act.

         Plaintiff requested Appeals Council review. On February 24, 2017, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review.


         In reviewing a final decision of the Commissioner under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c), the district court performs an appellate function. Zambrana v. Califano, 651 F.2d 842, 844 (2d Cir. 1981); Igonia v. Califano, 568 F.2d 1383, 1387 (D.C. Cir. 1977). A reviewing court will “set aside the ALJ's decision only where it is based upon legal error or is not supported by substantial evidence.” Balsamo v. Chater, 142 F.3d 75, 79 (2d Cir. 1998). See also Alston v. Sullivan, 904 F.2d 122, 126 (2d Cir. 1990)(“As a general matter, when we review a decision denying benefits under the Act, we must regard the [Commissioner's] factual determinations as conclusive unless they are unsupported by substantial evidence”). “Substantial evidence” is less than a preponderance, but “more than a scintilla.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). Substantial evidence means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Consol. Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938); see Yancey v. Apfel, 145 F.3d 106, 110 (2d Cir. 1998); Williams v. Bowen, 859 F.2d 255, 258 (2d Cir. 1988).

         In determining whether the evidence is substantial, the court must “take into account whatever in the record fairly detracts from its weight.” Universal Camera Corp. v. NLRB, 340 U.S. 474, 488 (1951). In so doing, the Court must “review the record as a whole.” New York v. Sec'y of Health and Human Servs., 903 F.2d 122, 126 (2d Cir. 1990).

         The ALJ need not “reconcile every conflicting shred of medical testimony.” Miles v. Harris, 645 F.2d 122, 124 (2d Cir.1981).

         The regulations promulgated by the Commissioner establish a five-step analysis for evaluating disability claims. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140-142 (1987); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520 and 416.920. First, the Commissioner considers if the claimant is, at present, working in substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(I). If not, the Commissioner next considers if the claimant has a medically severe impairment. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(ii). If the severity requirement is met, the third inquiry is whether the impairment is listed in Appendix 1 of the regulations or is equal to a listed impairment. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iii); Pt. 404, Subpt. P. App. 1. If so, the disability is granted. If not, the fourth inquiry is to determine whether, despite the severe impairment, the claimant's residual functional capacity allows him or her to perform any past work. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iv). If a claimant demonstrates that no past work can be performed, it then becomes incumbent upon the Commissioner to come forward with evidence that substantial gainful alternative employment exists which the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(v). If the Commissioner fails to come forward with such evidence, the claimant is entitled to disability benefits. Alston, 904 F.2d at 126.

         When the reviewing court has “no apparent basis to conclude that a more complete record might support the Commissioner's decision, ” it may remand for the sole purpose of calculating benefits. Butts v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d 277, 385-86 (2d Cir. 2004). However, the reviewing court may remand the matter to allow the ALJ to further develop the record, make more specific findings, or clarify his or her rationale. See Grace v. Astrue, 2013 WL 4010271, at *14 (S.D.N.Y.); see also Butts, 399 F.3d at 385- 86.

         Plaintiff challenges the denial on the grounds that the ALJ's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) determination was not supported by substantial evidence. Plaintiff maintains that defendant should have sought a medical source statement from one of plaintiff's treating providers. Plaintiff ...

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