United States District Court, D. Connecticut
B. FITZSIMMONS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Leatoya Richardson brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§405(g), seeking review of a final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security which denied her application
for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI) under Title XVI
of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §401 et seq.
(“the Act”). Plaintiff has moved to reverse or
remand the case for a rehearing. The Commissioner has moved
reasons set forth below, plaintiff's Motion to Reverse
and/or Remand Decision of Commissioner of Social Security
Administration [Doc. #18] is
GRANTED in part and DENIED
in part. Defendant's Motion for an Order Affirming the
Decision of the Commissioner [Doc. #20] is
procedural history of this case is not disputed. Plaintiff
filed an application for SSI on June 29, 2012, alleging
disability as of June 29, 2012. [Certified Transcript of the
Record, Compiled on November 16, 2015, Doc. #13 (hereinafter
“Tr.”) 19]. Plaintiff alleged disability due to:
schizoaffective disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder,
migraine headaches, obesity, paranoia, anxiety, depression,
bipolar disorder, mood disorder, post-traumatic stress
disorder (“PTSD”), and degenerative disc
disorder. [Tr. 21, 105, 110, 182]. Her SSI claim was denied
initially on November 8, 2012, and upon reconsideration on
January 24, 2013. [Tr. 81-95, 97-110]. Plaintiff timely
requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) on February 27, 2013. [Tr. 19].
February 21, 2014, Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) Robert A. DiBiccaro held a hearing, at
which plaintiff appeared with an attorney and testified. [Tr.
47-80]. On April 25, 2014, the ALJ found that plaintiff was
not disabled, and denied her claim. [Tr. 19-30]. Plaintiff
filed a timely request for review of the hearing decision on
June 16, 2014. [Tr. 14]. On August 27, 2015, the Appeals
Council denied review, thereby rendering ALJ DiBiccaro's
decision the final decision of the Commissioner. [Tr. 1-4].
The case is now ripe for review under 42 U.S.C. §405(g).
represented by counsel, timely filed this action for review
and moves to reverse and/or remand the Commissioner's
STANDARD OF REVIEW
review of a social security disability determination involves
two levels of inquiry. First, the Court must decide whether
the Commissioner applied the correct legal principles in
making the determination. Second, the Court must decide
whether the determination is supported by substantial
evidence. Balsamo v. Chater, 142 F.3d 75, 79 (2d
Cir. 1998) (citation omitted). Substantial evidence is
evidence that a reasonable mind would accept as adequate to
support a conclusion; it is more than a “mere
scintilla.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S.
389, 401 (1971) (quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v.
NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). The reviewing
court's responsibility is to ensure that a claim has been
fairly evaluated by the ALJ. Grey v.
Heckler, 721 F.2d 41, 46 (2d Cir. 1983) (citation
Court does not reach the second stage of review - evaluating
whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's
conclusion - if the Court determines that the ALJ failed to
apply the law correctly. See Norman v. Astrue, 912
F.Supp.2d 33, 70 (S.D.N.Y. 2012) (“The Court first
reviews the Commissioner's decision for compliance with
the correct legal standards; only then does it determine
whether the Commissioner's conclusions were supported by
substantial evidence.”). “Where there is a
reasonable basis for doubt whether the ALJ applied correct
legal principles, application of the substantial evidence
standard to uphold a finding of no disability creates an
unacceptable risk that a claimant will be deprived of the
right to have her disability determination made according to
the correct legal principles.” Johnson v.
Bowen, 817 F.2d 983, 986 (2d Cir. 1987).
crucial factors in any determination must be set forth with
sufficient specificity to enable [a reviewing court] to
decide whether the determination is supported by substantial
evidence.” Ferraris v. Heckler, 728 F.2d 582,
587 (2d Cir. 1984) (alteration added) (citation omitted). The
ALJ is free to accept or reject the testimony of any witness,
but a “finding that the witness is not credible must
nevertheless be set forth with sufficient specificity to
permit intelligible plenary review of the record.”
Williams ex rel. Williams v. Bowen, 859 F.2d 255,
260-61 (2d Cir. 1988) (citation omitted). “Moreover,
when a finding is potentially dispositive on the issue of
disability, there must be enough discussion to enable a
reviewing court to determine whether substantial evidence
exists to support that finding.” Johnston v.
Colvin, Civil Action No. 3:13-CV-00073(JCH), 2014 WL
1304715, at *6 (D. Conn. Mar. 31, 2014) (internal citations
important to note that in reviewing the ALJ's decision,
this Court's role is not to start from scratch. “In
reviewing a final decision of the SSA, this Court is limited
to determining whether the SSA's conclusions were
supported by substantial evidence in the record and were
based on a correct legal standard.” Talavera v.
Astrue, 697 F.3d 145, 151 (2d Cir. 2012) (citations and
internal quotation marks omitted). “[W]hether there is
substantial evidence supporting the appellant's view is
not the question here; rather, we must decide whether
substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision.”
Bonet ex rel. T.B. v. Colvin, 523 F. App'x 58,
59 (2d Cir. 2013)(citations omitted).
SSA LEGAL STANDARD
the Social Security Act, every individual who is under a
disability is entitled to disability insurance benefits.
considered disabled under the Act and therefore entitled to
benefits, Ms. Richardson must demonstrate that she is unable
to work after a date specified “by reason of any
medically determinable physical or mental impairment which
can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can
be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than
12 months.” 42 U.S.C. §423(d)(1)(A). Such
impairment or impairments must be “of such severity
that [s]he is not only unable to do h[er] previous work but
cannot, considering h[er] age, education, and work
experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful
work which exists in the national economy.” 42 U.S.C.
§423(d)(2)(A); see also 20 C.F.R.
§404.1520(c)(requiring that the impairment
“significantly limit [ ] ... physical or mental ability
to do basic work activities” to be considered
is a familiar five-step analysis used to determine if a
person is disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §404.1520(a)(4). In
the Second Circuit, the test is described as follows:
First, the Secretary considers whether the claimant is
currently engaged in substantial gainful activity. If he is
not, the Secretary next considers whether the claimant has a
“severe impairment” which significantly limits
his physical or mental ability to do basic work activities.
If the claimant suffers such an impairment, the third inquiry
is whether, based solely on medical evidence, the claimant
has an impairment which is listed in Appendix 1 of the
regulations. If the claimant has such an impairment, the
Secretary will consider him disabled without considering
vocational factors such as age, education, and work
experience; the Secretary presumes that a claimant who is
afflicted with a “listed” impairment is unable to
perform substantial gainful activity.
Berry v. Schweiker, 675 F.2d 464, 467 (2d Cir. 1982)
(per curiam). If and only if the claimant does not have a
listed impairment, the Commissioner engages in the fourth and
Assuming the claimant does not have a listed impairment, the
fourth inquiry is whether, despite the claimant's severe
impairment, he has the residual functional capacity to
perform his past work. Finally, if the claimant is unable to
perform his past work, the Secretary then determines whether
there is other work which the claimant could perform. Under
the cases previously discussed, the claimant bears the burden
of proof as to the first four steps, while the Secretary must
prove the final one.
the fourth step, the claimant carries the burdens of
production and persuasion, but if the analysis proceeds to
the fifth step, there is a limited shift in the burden of
proof and the Commissioner is obligated to demonstrate that
jobs exist in the national or local economies that the
claimant can perform given his residual functional
capacity.” Gonzalez ex rel. Guzman v. Dep't of
Health and Human Serv., 360 F. App'x 240, 243 (2d
Cir. 2010) (citing 68 Fed. Reg. 51155 (Aug. 26, 2003));
Poupore v. Astrue, 566 F.3d 303, 306 (2d Cir. 2009)
(per curiam)). “Residual functional capacity” is
what a person is still capable of doing despite limitations
resulting from his physical and mental impairments. See 20
C.F.R. §§404.1545(a), 416.945(a)(1).
assessing disability, factors to be considered are (1) the
objective medical facts; (2) diagnoses or medical opinions
based on such facts; (3) subjective evidence of pain or
disability testified to by the claimant or others; and (4)
the claimant's educational background, age, and work
experience.” Bastien v. Califano, 572 F.2d
908, 912 (2d Cir. 1978) (citation omitted).
“[E]ligibility for benefits is to be determined in
light of the fact that the Social ...