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Hill v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

March 26, 2018

BRANDON THOMAS HILL, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          ORDER AFFIRMING THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION

          Alvin W. Thompson United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Brandon Thomas Hill 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.

         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.§ 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).

         Discussion

         On June 20, 2012, the plaintiff filed an application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits, alleging disability beginning April 9, 2011. The plaintiff appeared telephonically and testified at a hearing on May 5, 2014. On August 28, 2014, the ALJ issued the Decision concluding that the claimant was not disabled.

         At Step Two the ALJ must determine whether the claimant has a medically determinable impairment that is “severe” or a combination of impairments that is “severe”. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). An impairment or combination of impairments is “severe” within the meaning of the regulations if it significantly limits an individual's ability to perform basic work activities. SSR 96-3p.

         At Step Two the ALJ found that the plaintiff had the following severe impairments: “persistent somatoform disorder and schizophrenic, paranoid, and other functional psychotic disorder-delusional disorder, somatic type rule out.” R. at 42. The plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred by not concluding that the plaintiff had a severe impairment in the form of a chemical hypersensitivity or Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (“MCS”).

         As a framework for her analysis on this issue the ALJ followed the guidance from SSR 96-4p, which includes the following:

Although the regulations provide that the existence of a medically determinable physical or mental impairment must be established by medical evidence consisting of signs, symptoms, and laboratory findings, the regulations further provide that under no circumstances may the existence of impairment be established on the basis of symptoms alone. Thus, regardless of how many symptoms an individual alleges, or how genuine the individual's complaints may appear to be, the existence of a medically determinable physical or mental impairment cannot be established in the absence of objective medical abnormalities; i.e., medical signs and laboratory findings (SSR 96-4p).
No symptoms or combinations of symptoms by itself can constitute a medically determinable impairment. In claims in which there are no medical signs or laboratory findings to substantiate the existence of a medically determinable physical or mental impairment, the individual must be found not disabled at step 2 of the sequential evaluation process (SSR 96-4p).

R. at 43.

         The record shows that the plaintiff had a disability evaluation on April 3, 2012. The examination was conducted by Dr. Ronald S. Jolda, who stated: “He has a self diagnosed chemical sensitivity syndrome. He has never had an evaluation work up. He is going to see a doctor in two days for a full workup of this problem.” R. at 558.

         On April 6, 2012 the plaintiff saw Dr. David C. Christiani, but he did not get a “full workup”. Dr. Christiani's notes reflect that “[t]he patient has not been formally diagnosed by a physician to have this syndrome but strongly feels that he does based on his history and symptom complex. He provided a detailed summary of his history.” R. at 563. Dr. Christiani's assessment was that the plaintiff met the criteria for multiple chemical sensitivity, but Dr. Christiani's assessment was based on the plaintiff's self-reported symptoms. Subsequently Dr. Christiani issued a letter, dated November 14, 2013, in which he opined that the plaintiff suffered from “environmental intolerance, also termed multiple ...


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