United States District Court, D. Connecticut
DEBORAH E. STANDARD MAERKEL, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
RULING ON CROSS MOTIONS TO REMAND AND AFFIRM DECISION
OF THE COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY
Jeffrey Alker Meyer United States District Judge
Deborah Standard Maerkel alleges that she is disabled and
cannot work because of, among other impairments,
hypertension, obesity, posttraumatic arthritis in the left
ankle, hypothyroidism, and depression. She filed 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 social security disability
insurance benefits. For the reasons explained below, I will
grant plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings
(Doc. #16), which I construe as a motion to reverse or remand
the decision of the Commissioner, and I will deny the
Commissioner's motion to affirm the decision of the
Commissioner (Doc. #19).
Court refers to the transcripts provided by the Commissioner.
See Doc. #14-1 through Doc. #14-12. Plaintiff filed
an application for social security disability insurance
benefits on August 24, 2015, alleging a disability onset date
of June 15, 2013. Plaintiff's claim was initially denied
on October 8, 2015, and denied again upon reconsideration on
November 12, 2015. She then filed a written request for a
hearing on December 8, 2015.
appeared and testified at a hearing before Administrative Law
Judge (ALJ) I. K. Harrington on May 18, 2016. Plaintiff was
represented by counsel. On June 29, 2016, the ALJ issued a
decision concluding that plaintiff was not disabled within
the meaning of the Social Security Act. See Doc.
#14-3 at 18-33. The Appeals Council affirmed the decision of
the ALJ on December 9, 2016. Plaintiff then filed this
federal action on February 6, 2017.
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 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 Fed.Appx. 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 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 March 31, 2015. Doc. #14-3 at 21.
Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since June 15, 2013, the date of the alleged onset of her
disability. At Step Two, the ALJ found that plaintiff
suffered from the following severe impairments:
“hypertension, obesity, and post-traumatic arthritis in
the left ankle.” Ibid. The ALJ concluded that
plaintiff's medically determinable impairments of
hypothyroidism and depression were non-severe. Id.
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 24.
Four, the ALJ found that, through the date of last insured,
plaintiff “had the residual functional capacity to
perform sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(a)
except the claimant is capable of sitting for six hours, and
standing and/or walking for one and a half hours. She is
capable of occasional pushing and/or pulling and operating of
left foot controls. The claimant is further capable of
occasional balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and climb ramps and
stairs, but she should never crawl, or climb ladders, ropes,
or scaffolds. The claimant should avoid concentrated exposure
to extreme cold, heat, fumes, odors, dusts, gases, poor
ventilation, and she should not have direct exposure to
unprotected heights.” Id. at 25.
plaintiff's credibility, the ALJ concluded that
plaintiff's “statements concerning the intensity,
persistence and limiting effects of [her] symptoms are not
consistent with the medical evidence and other evidence in
the record.” Id. at 27.
also concluded at Step Four that plaintiff was capable of
performing her past relevant work as an account clerk.
Id. at 30. In reaching this conclusion, the ALJ
relied on the testimony of a vocational expert, who the ALJ
stated had considered plaintiff's ...