United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RULING GRANTING MOTION TO AFFIRM AND DENYING MOTION
Jeffrey Alker Meyer, United States District Judge.
Carmen Rivera alleges that she is disabled and cannot work
because of, among other impairments, rheumatoid arthritis,
fibromyalgia, depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder.
Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), she seeks review of the
final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying
her claim for social security disability and supplemental
security income. The parties have now filed cross-motions to
reverse and affirm. For the reasons explained below, I will
deny plaintiff's motion to reverse and grant the
Commissioner's motion to affirm.
Court refers to the transcripts provided by the Commissioner.
See Doc. #18-1 through Doc. #18-9. Plaintiff filed
an application for disability insurance benefits under Title
II on April 26, 2013, and filed an application for
supplemental security income under Title XVI on May 20, 2013.
In both applications, she alleges a disability onset date of
December 9, 2012. Plaintiff most recently worked for Yale-New
Haven Hospital for approximately five years in the
environmental services department and ended her employment
there in early 2013. Doc. #18-6 at 17. Plaintiff's claims
were denied on August 14, 2013, and again upon
reconsideration on November 13, 2013. Plaintiff then timely
filed a written demand for a hearing.
appeared and testified before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ)
I. K. Harrington on November 13, 2014. Plaintiff was
represented by counsel. Vocational expert Albert Sabella
testified at the hearing. On March 17, 2015, the ALJ issued a
decision concluding that plaintiff was not disabled within
the meaning of the Social Security Act. See Doc.
#18-3 at 26-40. On September 1, 2016, the Appeals Council
denied plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's
decision. Doc. #18-3 at 12. Plaintiff timely filed this
federal action seeking review of the ALJ's decision.
See Doc. #1.
qualify as disabled, a claimant must show that she is unable
“to engage in any substantial gainful activity by
reason of any medically determinable physical or mental
impairment which . . . has lasted or can be expected to last
for a continuous period of not less than 12 months, ”
and “the impairment must be ‘of such severity
that [the claimant] is not only unable to do [her] previous
work but cannot, considering [her] age, education, and work
experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful
work which exists in the national economy.'”
Robinson v. Concentra Health Servs., Inc., 781 F.3d
42, 45 (2d Cir. 2015) (quoting 42 U.S.C. §§
423(d)(1)(A), 423(d)(2)(A)). “[W]ork exists in the
national economy when it exists in significant numbers either
in the region where [a claimant] live[s] or in several other
regions of the country, ” and “when there is a
significant number of jobs (in one or more occupations)
having requirements which [a claimant] [is] able to meet with
[her] physical or mental abilities and vocational
qualifications.” 20 C.F.R. § 416.966(a)-(b);
see also Kennedy v. Astrue, 343 F.App'x 719, 722
(2d Cir. 2009).
evaluate a claimant's disability, and to determine
whether she qualifies for benefits, the agency engages in the
following five-step process:
First, the Commissioner considers whether the claimant is
currently engaged in substantial gainful activity. Where the
claimant is not, the Commissioner next considers whether the
claimant has a “severe impairment” that
significantly limits her 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 that is
listed [in the so-called “Listings”] ¶ 20
C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1. If the claimant has a
listed impairment, the Commissioner will consider the
claimant disabled without considering vocational factors such
as age, education, and work experience; the Commissioner
presumes that a claimant who is afflicted with a listed
impairment is unable to perform substantial gainful activity.
Assuming the claimant does not have a listed impairment, the
fourth inquiry is whether, despite the claimant's severe
impairment, she has the residual functional capacity to
perform her past work. Finally, if the claimant is unable to
perform her past work, the burden then shifts to the
Commissioner to determine whether there is other work which
the claimant could perform.
Cage v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 692 F.3d 118,
122-23 (2d Cir. 2012) (alteration in original) (citation
omitted); see also 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(a)(4)(i)-(v). In applying this framework, an ALJ may
find a claimant to be disabled or not disabled at a
particular step and may make a decision without proceeding to
the next step. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4).
The claimant bears the burden of proving the case at Steps
One through Four; at Step Five, the burden shifts to the
Commissioner to demonstrate that there is other work that the
claimant can perform. See McIntyre v.
Colvin, 758 F.3d 146, 150 (2d Cir. 2014).
concluded that the plaintiff was not disabled within the
meaning of the Social Security Act. At Step One, the ALJ
determined that plaintiff had not engaged in substantial
gainful employment activity since December 9, 2012, the date
of the alleged onset of her disability. Doc. #18-3 at 29. The
ALJ observed that plaintiff's earning records reflected
that she earned $1, 217.79 in 2013, but that the amount is
below the $1, 040 per month presumptive level for substantial
gainful activity. Ibid.
Two, the ALJ found that plaintiff had the following
“severe impairments” during the relevant time
period: major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety
disorder, bipolar disorder, fibromyalgia, and rheumatoid
arthritis. Ibid. At Step Three, the ALJ determined
that plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that met or equaled the severity of one of the
listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix
1. Id. at 29- 30.
Four, the ALJ found that plaintiff had “the residual
functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20
CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) except [plaintiff] can
frequently stoop, and occasionally, kneel, crouch, crawl, and
climb ramps, stairs, ladders, ropes, and scaffolds, ”
but she is limited to “simple routine tasks involving
no more than simple, short instructions and simple
work-related decisions with few workplace changes.”
Id. at 33. Additionally, plaintiff “can have
no interaction with the general public, cannot perform tandem
tasks, and can occasionally interact with co-workers and
formulating the residual functional capacity (RFC), the ALJ
accorded “substantial weight” to the opinions of
non-examining medical and psychological consultants of the
state agency. Id. at 35. The initial consultant was
Rafael Wurzel, M.D., and the reconsideration consultant was
Lewis Cylus, M.D. Ibid. The medical consultants
concluded that plaintiff was capable of performing light
work. Doc. #18-4 at 14, 44. They further opined that
plaintiff could occasionally lift 20 pounds, frequently lift
10 pounds, stand, walk, or sit for six to eight hours per
day, with some postural limitations, but no manipulative
limitations. Id. at 10-12, 40-42. Dr. Cylus
explained that plaintiff had a history of rheumatoid
arthritis and fibromyalgia, but that there was no evidence of
active synovitis-i.e., inflammation. Id. at
41. He did note arthralgias, but plaintiff had a normal gait,
70-degree lumbar flex, normal toe/heel gait, and a full
the psychological opinions, Robert Decarli, Psy.D. opined
that plaintiff could perform simple work for two-hour periods
in an eight-hour day with adequate concentration and pace,
but could have occasional problems with prolonged
concentration and sustained pace due to her lowered mood.
Id. at 12. He rated plaintiff's individual
sustained concentration and persistence limitations, social
interaction limitations, and adaption limitations to be
either “not significantly limited” or
“moderately limited.” Id. at 11-13. On
reconsideration, Deborah Stack, Psy.D. reached the same
conclusion. Id. at 42-43.
accorded the opinion of Herbert Reiher, M.D., the physical
consultative examiner partial weight. Doc. #18-3 at 35. The
ALJ accorded great weight to Dr. Reiher's opinion that
plaintiff could sit, stand, or walk for six hours in an
eight-hour work day, lift and carry 10 pounds occasionally,
and was limited in her ability to squat and reach.
Ibid. She accorded less weight to Dr. Reiher's
opinion regarding plaintiff's limitations with respect to