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Fuller v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

March 22, 2018

KEITH WAYNE FULLER, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          RULING ON PENDING MOTIONS

          WILLIAM I. GARFINKEL UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This is an administrative appeal following the denial of the plaintiff, Keith Wayne Fuller's, application for Title II disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). It is brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).[1]

         Plaintiff 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. # 19]. The Commissioner, in turn, has moved for an order affirming her decision. [Doc. # 23]. The Undersigned heard oral argument on these motions on March 15, 2018. For the reasons discussed below, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         “A 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).

         Substantial 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 at 258.

         BACKGROUND

         a. Facts

         Plaintiff filed his DIB application on January 25, 2013, alleging a disability onset date of December 2, 2011. His claim were denied at both the initial and reconsideration levels. Thereafter, Plaintiff requested a hearing. On February 18, 2015, a hearing was held before administrative law judge Robert A. DiBiccaro (the “ALJ”). On August 25, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff's claim. The Appeals Council denied review of the ALJ's unfavorable decision. This action followed.

         Plaintiff was sixty-two years old on the date of the hearing before the ALJ. (R. 44). He has a bachelor's degree and has completed some graduate-level work. (R. 46). Plaintiff has past work experience as a community counselor and a vocational counselor. (R. 47, 57). He last worked in May 2011; he lost his job when his employer downsized. (R. 432). During the relevant period, Plaintiff primarily underwent holistic treatment methods (specifically osteopathic manipulative treatment (“OMT”)[2]). (R. 65-66). Plaintiff's complete medical history is set forth in the Stipulation of Facts the parties filed. [Doc. # 19-2]. The Court adopts this Stipulation and incorporates it by reference herein.

         b. The ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ followed the sequential evaluation process for assessing disability claims.[3] At Step One, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date. (R. 25-26). At Step Two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has medically determinable impairments, [4] but that he does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that was severe. (R. 26-32). Thus, the ALJ ended the evaluation at the second step and found Plaintiff not disabled.

         DISCUSSION

         The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that significantly limits the ability to perform basic work-related activities. In other words, the ALJ determined that ...


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