United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RULING ON CROSS MOTIONS TO REMAND AND AFFIRM DECISION
OF THE COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY
Jeffrey Alker Meyer United States District Judge.
Tyler Scott asserts that he is disabled and unable to work
due to a number of mental disorders. He has brought this
action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review of
a final decision of defendant Commissioner of Social
Security, who denied plaintiff's claim for disability
insurance benefits. For the reasons explained below, I will
deny plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings
(Doc. #13), which I construe as a motion to reverse or remand
the decision of the Commissioner, and I will grant the
Commissioner's motion to affirm the decision of the
Commissioner (Doc. #23).
Court refers to the transcripts provided by the Commissioner.
See Doc. #11-1 through Doc. #11-8. Plaintiff filed
an application for disability insurance benefits on October
4, 2013, alleging a disability onset date of June 1, 2013.
Plaintiff was 23 years old at the time of his application.
Plaintiff's claim was denied on December 12, 2013, and
again upon reconsideration on April 2, 2014. Plaintiff then
filed a written demand for a hearing.
appeared and testified at a hearing before Administrative Law
Judge (ALJ) Robert A. DiBiccaro on April 30, 2015. Plaintiff
was represented by counsel. On July 27, 2015, the ALJ issued
a decision concluding that plaintiff was not disabled within
the meaning of the Social Security Act. See Doc.
#11-3 at 38-49. After the Appeals Council denied
plaintiff's request for review, plaintiff filed this
qualify as disabled, a claimant must show that he 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 his previous
work but cannot, considering his 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
his 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 he 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 [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 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, [he] has the residual functional capacity to
perform [his] past work. Finally, if the claimant is unable
to perform [his] 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 plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning
of the Social Security Act. At Step One, the ALJ determined
that plaintiff last met the insured status requirement of the
Social Security Act on June 30, 2013. Doc. #11-3 at 41.
Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since June 1, 2013, the date of the alleged onset of his
disability. Id. at 42. At Step Two, the ALJ found
that plaintiff suffered from the following severe
impairments: “psychotic disorder, not otherwise
specified, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), unspecified
schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder, unspecified.”
Three, the ALJ determined that plaintiff did not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled the severity of one of the listed
impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
Id. at 25. Ibid.
Four, the ALJ found that, through the date of last insured,
plaintiff “had the residual functional capacity to
perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but
with the following nonexertional limitations: he could have
occasional contact with supervisors, co-workers, and the
public, ” and he “could understand and remember
simple instructions and carry out routine, repetitive
tasks.” Id. at 44. In formulating the residual
functional capacity (RFC), the ALJ accorded “great
weight” to the state agency reviewing consultants'
psychological evaluations and “significant
weight” to their mental assessments. Id. at
accorded the multiple opinions of plaintiff's treating
physician, Christine Naungayan, M.D., varying degrees of
weight. The ALJ gave Dr. Naungayan's October 2013 and
April 2014 opinions only “some weight, ” because
plaintiff subsequently showed significant improvement after
both these dates with treatment. Id. at 47, 48. To
the extent that the April 2014 opinion touched upon
plaintiff's stress tolerance and attendance estimates,
the ALJ gave Dr. Naungayan's opinion “little
weight” because of lack of support in the doctor's
treatment notes. Id. at 48. The ALJ concluded that
Dr. Naungayan's opinion of April 2015 should be given
“no weight, ” because this opinion was not
consistent with the doctor's treatment notes.
plaintiff's credibility, the ALJ concluded that
plaintiff's “statements concerning the intensity,
persistence and limiting effects of [his] symptoms are not
entirely credible.” Id. at 45. The ALJ gave
the testimony of plaintiff's step-father, who also
testified at the hearing, “little weight.”
Id. at 48. Also at Step Four, the ALJ concluded that
there was insufficient evidence to make a determination
whether plaintiff could perform his past relevant work as a
machine stocker. Ibid.
Five, after considering plaintiff's age, education, work
experience, and RFC, the ALJ concluded that, through the date
of last insured, there were jobs that plaintiff could perform
that existed in significant numbers in the national economy.
Id. at 49. In reaching this conclusion, the ALJ
relied on the Medical-Vocational Guidelines
(“Grids”), 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 2. Ibid. The ALJ also gave significant
weight to the state agency finding that plaintiff is capable
of performing work as a surveillance system monitor,
type-copy examiner, and printed circuit layout taper.
Ibid. Because plaintiff's nonexertional
limitations “had little or no effect on the
occupational base of unskilled work at all exertional levels,
” the ALJ believed it appropriate to rely on the Grids
in making his Step Five finding. Ibid. The ALJ
ultimately held that plaintiff was not disabled within the
meaning of the Social Security Act. Id. at 50.
December 15, 2016, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's
request for review. Id. at 2. Plaintiff submitted
additional evidence for the Appeals Council to consider, but
the Appeals Council declined to consider the evidence because
it did not meet the criteria for consideration set forth in
20 C.F.R. § 405.401(c). Plaintiff then timely filed this
case on February 13, 2017.
Court may ordinarily “set aside the Commissioner's
determination that a claimant is not disabled only if the
factual findings are not supported by substantial evidence or
if the decision is based on legal error.” Burgess
v. Astrue, 537 F.3d 117, 127 (2d Cir. 2008); see
also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence is
“more than a mere scintilla” and “means
such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.” Lesterhuis v.
Colvin, 805 F.3d 83, 87 (2d Cir. 2015) (per
curiam). Absent a legal error, this Court must uphold
the Commissioner's decision if it is supported by