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Murillo v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

April 6, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          WILLIAM I. GARFINKEL, United States Magistrate Judge

         This is an administrative appeal following the denial of the plaintiff, Leslie Murillo's, application for Title II disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and Title XVI supplemental security income benefits (“SSI”). It is brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).[1]

         Plaintiff now moves for an order reversing the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the “Commissioner”), or in the alternative, an order remanding her case for a rehearing. [Doc. # 17]. The Commissioner, in turn, has moved for an order affirming her decision. [Doc. # 20]. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's motion is granted, and the Commissioner's motion is denied.


         “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.C. § 405(g), is performing an appellate function.” Zambrana v. Califano, 651 F.2d 842 (2d Cir. 1981). “The findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, [are] conclusive . . . .” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Accordingly, the district court may not make a de novo determination of whether a plaintiff is disabled in reviewing a denial of disability benefits. Id.; Wagner v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 906 F.2d 856, 860 (2d Cir. 1990). Rather, the court's function is to first ascertain whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal principles in reaching her conclusion, and then whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence. Johnson v. Bowen, 817 F.2d 983, 985 (2d Cir. 1987). Therefore, absent legal error, a decision of the Commissioner cannot be set aside if it is supported by substantial evidence. Berry v. Schweiker, 675 F.2d 464, 467 (2d Cir. 1982). 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. Schauer v. Schweiker, 675 F.2d 55, 57 (2d Cir. 1982).

         Substantial evidence is “‘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 scintilla or touch of proof here and there in the record.” Williams, 859 F.2d at 258.


         a. Facts

         Plaintiff filed her applications for DIB and SSI on April 11, 2012, alleging a disability onset date of February 1, 2011. Her claims were denied at both the initial and reconsideration levels. Thereafter, Plaintiff requested a hearing. On July 15, 2014, a hearing was held before administrative law judge Ronald J. Thomas (the “ALJ”). On October 28, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff's claims. The Appeals Council denied review of the ALJ's unfavorable decision. This action followed.

         Plaintiff was forty-eight years old on the alleged onset date. She has a high school education and past work experience as a nurse's aide and fast food restaurant manager. She last worked in 2010 as a home health aide. Plaintiff's medical history is set forth in the Joint Medical Chronology the parties filed. [Doc. # 27]. The Court adopts this medical chronology as represented and incorporates it by reference herein.

         b. The ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ followed the sequential evaluation process for assessing disability claims.[2] At Step One, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date. (R. 15). At Step Two, the ALJ found the following severe impairments: mood disorder; anxiety disorder; fibromyalgia; narcolepsy without cataplexy; degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine associated with myofascial pain; osteoarthritis of the right knee. (R. 15). At Step Three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments. (R. 16). Next, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retains the following residual functional capacity[3]:

Plaintiff can perform light work except she is limited to only occasional interaction with the public, coworkers, and supervisions; she can perform work in a supervised, low stress environment requiring few decisions; she has occasional limitations with bending, stooping, twisting, squatting, kneeling, crawling, balancing, and climbing.

(R. 18). At Step Four, the ALJ found Plaintiff was unable to perform her past relevant work. (R. 27). Finally, at Step Five, the ALJ relied on the testimony of a vocational expert in finding there are jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy Plaintiff can perform. (R. 28). Specifically, a person with Plaintiff's RFC and vocational factors would be able to perform the positions of small products assembler, ...

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