United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RULING RE: CROSS MOTIONS TO REVERSE AND AFFIRM
DECISION OF THE COMMISSIONER (DOC. NOS. 17 & 18)
C. HALL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Donald Geckle (“Geckle”) brings this action under
title 42 section 405(g) of the United States Code, appealing
from the final determination of the Commissioner of Social
Security (the “Commissioner”), who denied his
application for Title II disability insurance benefits in
whole, based on a finding that Geckle was not disabled within
the meaning of the Social Security Act. See Motion
to Reverse the Decision of the Commissioner (“Pl.'s
Mot.”) (Doc. No. 17). The Commissioner cross-moves for
an order affirming that decision. See Motion to
Affirm the Decision of the Commissioner (Def.'s Mot.)
(Doc. No. 18).
reasons set forth below, Geckle's Motion to Reverse the
Decision of the Commissioner (Doc. No. 17) is denied, and the
Commissioner's Motion to Affirm the Decision of the
Commissioner (Doc. No. 18) is granted.
court adopts the facts to which the parties stipulated,
see Def.'s Mot. at 3, and it will therefore only
briefly describe the facts relevant to this opinion.
was 67 years old at the time of his hearing in May 2015.
See Plaintiff's Memorandum in Support of Motion
to Reverse (“Pl.'s Mem.”) (Doc. No. 17-2) at
3. He has a bachelor's degree in school psychology and a
MBA in computer and information science. Id. He has
worked in a variety of professional roles, most recently as a
fulfillment manager. Id. He has also worked as a
systems consultant. Id.
2009, Geckle was bit by a tick and contracted Lyme disease.
See Certified Transcript of Record
(“R.”) (Doc. No. 11) at 33 (hearing testimony of
Geckle). Since that time, Geckle has reported physical and
mental fatigue. Id. at 34. Between 2009 and 2011,
Geckle gradually reduced his hours at work until he was
working only fifteen hours per week. See id. at 233
(letter of Michael P. Meskill, former employer of Geckle).
Then, on March 1, 2011, Geckle's employment was
terminated because he was unable to do any physical labor.
to the medical evidence in the Record, Geckle has been
diagnosed with a wide array of illnesses and disorders,
including: Lyme Disease, R. at 490, 494, 605, 612, 635, 665;
Chronic Fatigue, id. at 356, 475, 495, 607, 614;
Chronic Pain Syndrome, id. at 607, 614; Degenerative
Joint Disease, id. at 625; Depressive Disorder,
id. at 321, 409, 486, 490, 605, 607, 612, 635, 664;
Mood Disorder, id. at 321, 486, 490, 605, 612, 635,
664; and Obstructive Sleep Apnea, id. at 605, 665.
See also Pl.'s Mem. at 3-4 (listing all
diagnoses with cites to the Record).
applied for Title II disability insurance benefits on
November 7, 2012, alleging a disability onset date of March
1, 2011. See R. at 11. His application was denied
initially on March 14, 2013, and, upon reconsideration, was
denied again on June 7, 2013. See id. at 47-71.
Geckle then filed a written request for a hearing on July 17,
2013. Id. at 83-84. That hearing took place on May
29, 2015, before Administrative Law Judge Ryan Alger
(“ALJ Alger”). See id. at 26-46
(transcript of hearing). Geckle was present and testified at
the hearing, and was represented by Attorney Ivan Ramos.
See id. Vocational expert Michael La
(“La Raia”) also testified at the hearing.
28, 2015, ALJ Alger issued a Decision denying Geckle's
application for disability insurance benefits. See
id. at 11-21. In that Decision, ALJ Alger found that
Geckle had acquired sufficient quarters of coverage to remain
insured through March 31, 2014, meaning that Geckle would
need to have been disabled between March 1, 2011, and March
31, 2014, in order to be eligible for disability insurance
benefits. See id. at 11. ALJ Alger further found
that Geckle suffered from a severe impairment of Lyme
disease, as well as non-severe impairments including obesity,
hypertension, kidney disease, and cervicalgia. Id.
at 13-14. ALJ Alger also found that Geckle suffered from
depression, but that it was a non-severe impairment because
it “did not cause more than minimal limitation in
[Geckle]'s ability to perform basic mental work
activities.” Id. at 14. ALJ Alger discussed
Geckle's alleged impairment of chronic fatigue, but found
that it was a “non-medically determinable
impairment” because there was no “medical
evidence consisting of signs, symptoms, and laboratory
findings” supporting chronic fatigue, and the
regulations prohibit finding an impairment “based on
symptoms alone.” Id. Thus, while ALJ Alger
acknowledged that Geckle had been “very adamant about
suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome, ” he concluded
that “chronic fatigue syndrome has not been found to be
a medically determinable impairment.” Id. at
Alger concluded that Geckle had the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to perform “the full range
of light work as defined in 20 C.F.R.
404.1567(b).” Id. at 16. In so concluding, ALJ
Alger found that Geckle's “medically determinable
impairments could reasonably be expected to cause the alleged
symptoms” but his “statements concerning the
intensity, persistence and limiting effects of these symptoms
are not entirely credible.” Id. at 17. For
example, ALJ Alger noted that Geckle's treatment records
indicate that he is fatigued “only after exertion and
that the fatigue might decrease if he used his [continuous
position airway pressure (“CPAP”) machine] while
he slept.” Id. ALJ Alger noted that Geckle
received unemployment benefits after he was laid off in March
2011, which “required [Geckle] to certify he was
willing and able to engage in work activity, ” and that
Geckle had not followed his physician's advice to use a
CPAP machine while sleeping. Id. “If the
claimant's fatigue were as debilitating as the claimant
alleged, ” ALJ Alger stated, “one would expect
him to accept his provider's treatment recommendations
and be willing to do what is necessary to improve his
condition.” Id. at 17-18. ALJ Alger further
noted that Geckle was going to the gym to use the bike and
weight machines. Id. at 18.
Alger considered the opinion evidence in the Record,
including a treating source opinion submitted by one of
Geckle's treating physicians, Dr. Zijad Sabovic, to whom
he gave little weight because “her opinion is not
supported by the claimant's other medical records, or by
the claimant's own assertions.” Id. at 19.
He also considered letters submitted on Geckle's behalf
by a neighbor, Dr. Dan Wilensky; his former employer, Mr.
Meskill; and a member of Geckle's church, Ms. Welton.
Id. at 20.
ALJ Alger considered the testimony of vocational expert La
Raia, who testified that someone with substantially the same
RFC as Geckle could perform two of the positions Geckle had
held in the past fifteen years, specifically his most recent
position as fulfillment manager and an earlier position as a
systems consultant. Id. ALJ Alger found that these
positions qualified as “past relevant work that
[Geckle] could actually and generally perform in the national
economy” based on his RFC determination. Id.
at 21. ALJ Alger, therefore, concluded that Geckle was not
disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act during
the relevant time period of March 1, 2011, through March 31,
appealed ALJ Alger's Decision, which appeal was denied by
the Social Security Appeals Council on December 20, 2016,
rendering ALJ Alger's Decision a final decision eligible
for district court review. See id. at 1-3; 42 U.S.C.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
title 42 section 405(g) of the United States Code, it is not
the district court's function to determine de
novo whether the claimant was disabled. See Schaal
v. Apfel, 134 F.3d 496, 501 (2d Cir. 1998). Instead, the
court is limited to two lines of inquiry: whether the ALJ
applied the correct legal standard, and whether the record
contains “substantial evidence” to support his
decision. See Rosa v. Callahan, 168 F.3d 72, 77 (2d
Cir. 1999). “Substantial evidence” is “more
than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S.
389, 401 (1971) (quoting Consol. Edison Co. v. NLRB,
305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)).
Motion to Reverse, Geckle makes two arguments as to why ALJ
Alger's Decision should be reversed or, in the
alternative, vacated and remanded: (1) that ALJ Alger failed
to adequately develop the record, Pl.'s Mem. at 13-15;
and (2) that ALJ Alger's RFC determination was not