United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RULING ON CROSS MOTIONS
B. FITZSIMMONS, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Jeremy Collins, acting pro se, brings this action pursuant to
42 U.S.C. §405(g), seeking review of a final decision of
the Acting Commissioner of Social Security who denied his
application for Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) under Title II of the Social Security
Act, 42 U.S.C. §401 et seq. (“the Act”).
Plaintiff has moved to reverse the case and for a rehearing.
The Commissioner has moved to affirm.
reasons set forth below, plaintiff's Motion for Order
Reversing the Commissioner's Decision [Doc.
#12] is DENIED in part.
Defendant's Motion for an Order Affirming the Decision of
the Commissioner [Doc. #15] is
filed an application for DIB on January 15, 2014, alleging
disability as of October 12, 2003. [Certified Transcript of the
Record, Compiled on October 24, 2016, Doc. #11 (hereinafter
“Tr.”) 16]. Plaintiff alleged disability due to
osteoarthritis; ACL replacements and meniscus repair (right
knee); severe over pronation (right and left feet); carpal
tunnel syndrome (right and left wrist/hand); Lyme Disease;
high blood pressure; obesity; tendonitis (right elbow);
posterior tibial tendon dysfunction (right ankle); eczema;
and gastritis. [Tr. 85, 191]. His DIB claim was denied
initially on May 13, 2014, and upon reconsideration on July
9, 2014. [Tr. 77-87, 88-97]. Plaintiff timely requested a
hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) on July 14, 2014. [Tr. 16].
8, 2015, Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”)
Eskunder Boyd held a hearing, at which plaintiff appeared
with an attorney and testified. [Tr. 35-76]. Vocational
Expert (“VE”) Howard Steinberg testified at the
hearing. [Tr. 66-73]. On July 29, 2015, the ALJ found that
plaintiff was not disabled, and denied his claim. [Tr.
16-26]. Plaintiff filed a timely request for review of the
hearing decision on August 19, 2015. [Tr. 10]. On May 17,
2016, the Appeals Council denied review, thereby rendering
ALJ Boyd'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).
acting pro se, timely filed this action for review and moves
to reverse the Commissioner's decision.
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 omitted).
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 Fed.Appx. 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, Mr. Collins must demonstrate that he 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 he 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.” 42 U.S.C. §423(d)(2)(A); see also 20
C.F.R. §404.1520(c) (requiring that the impairment
“significantly limits your 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 Fed.Appx. 240, 243 (2d Cir.
2010) (citing 68 Fed. Reg. 51155 (Aug. 26, 2003));
Poupore v. Astrue, 566 F.3d 303, 306 (2d Cir. 2009)
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). “In 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 Security Act
is a remedial statute to be broadly construed and liberally
applied.” Id. (citation and internal quotation