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Clark v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

May 14, 2018

BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          Warren W. Eginton Senior United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Darla Marie Clark challenges the denial of her application for Social Security disability benefits and requests reversal of the Commissioner's decision pursuant to sentence four or six of 42 U.S.C § 405(g). Defendant has filed a motion to affirm the Commissioner's Decision. For the following reasons, the Court will grant plaintiff's motion to reverse the decision of the Commissioner, and deny defendant's motion for an order affirming the Commissioner's decision.


         The parties have not submitted a stipulated statement of facts. However, defendant has provided a statement of facts, and plaintiff has had the opportunity to respond thereto. The Court will incorporate facts as reflected by record into this ruling.

         Plaintiff was born in 1960. She filed an application for disability insurance benefits on October 7, 2013, alleging disability commencing September 19, 2013. Her application was denied, and then upon reconsideration, it was again denied. Plaintiff requested a hearing with an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). After the hearing, the ALJ issued a decision, finding that plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Specifically, the ALJ found that plaintiff had a severe impairment of degenerative disc disease, but that the impairment did not meet or medically equal one of the impairments listed in Appendix 1 of the regulations. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iii); Pt. 404, Subpt. P. App. 1. The ALJ determined that plaintiff retained the Residual Functional Capacity ("RFC") to perform light work consistent with 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b) with certain restrictions. With the assistance of a vocational expert, the ALJ found that plaintiff could perform her past relevant work of Cashier or Checker, Procurement Clerk, or Injection Mold Machine Tender.

         Plaintiff requested Appeals Council review. On May 26, 2017, the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review.

         The ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ's decision stated: "There is objective evidence in the medical record of impairments that are non-severe in that such impairments establish only a slight abnomality or combination of thereof that would have no more than a minimal effect on the claimant's ability to meet the basic demands of work activity." The ALJ concluded that "the light residual functional capacity with the additionally noted limitations adequately accounts for the claimant's degenerative disc disease." In reaching the determination that plaintiff is not disabled, the ALJ gave great weight to the opinions of non-examining State Agency medical consultants, the report by Dr. Gerald Becker, and plaintiff's treating physician Dr. Todd Tracy, who is a doctor of internal medicine. The ALJ afforded little weight to the opinion of Dr. Aaron Schachter, an orthopedist who had treated plaintiff and opined that she has a sedentary capacity. The ALJ found that plaintiff's statements concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of her symptoms were not consistent with the medical record or her reported daily physical activity. The ALJ considered plaintiff's collection of unemployment benefits to be inconsistent with her assertion of being disabled, because she would have had to certify that she would look for employment in order to receive such benefits.

         The ALJ explained that additional written evidence was submitted and admitted into the record, and the ALJ found that “duty to develop the record” had been satisfied. The ALJ indicated that the decision reflected consideration of plaintiff's treatment history, the objective clinical findings, plaintiff's subjective complaints, and all of the medical opinions and evidence of the record.


         In reviewing a final decision of the Commissioner under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c), the district court performs an appellate function. Zambrana v. Califano, 651 F.2d 842, 844 (2d Cir. 1981); Igonia v. Califano, 568 F.2d 1383, 1387 (D.C. Cir. 1977). A reviewing court will “set aside the ALJ's decision only where it is based upon legal error or is not supported by substantial evidence.” Balsamo v. Chater, 142 F.3d 75, 79 (2d Cir. 1998). See also Alston v. Sullivan, 904 F.2d 122, 126 (2d Cir. 1990)(“As a general matter, when we review a decision denying benefits under the Act, we must regard the [Commissioner's] factual determinations as conclusive unless they are unsupported by substantial evidence”). “Substantial evidence” is less than a preponderance, but “more than a scintilla.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). Substantial evidence means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion. Consol. Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938); see Yancey v. Apfel, 145 F.3d 106, 110 (2d Cir. 1998); Williams v. Bowen, 859 F.2d 255, 258 (2d Cir. 1988).

         In determining whether the evidence is substantial, the court must “take into account whatever in the record fairly detracts from its weight.” Universal Camera Corp. v. NLRB, 340 U.S. 474, 488 (1951). In so doing, the Court must “review the record as a whole.” New York v. Sec'y of Health and Human Servs., 903 F.2d 122, 126 (2d Cir. 1990).

         The ALJ need not “reconcile every conflicting shred of medical testimony.” Miles v. Harris, 645 F.2d 122, 124 (2d Cir.1981).

         The regulations promulgated by the Commissioner establish a five-step analysis for evaluating disability claims. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 140-142 (1987); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520 and 416.920. First, the Commissioner considers if the claimant is, at present, working in substantial gainful activity. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(I). If not, the Commissioner next considers if the claimant has a medically severe impairment. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(ii). If the severity requirement is met, the third inquiry is whether the impairment is listed in Appendix 1 of the regulations or is equal to a listed impairment. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iii); Pt. 404, Subpt. P. App. 1. If so, the disability is granted. If not, the fourth inquiry is to determine whether, despite the severe impairment, the claimant's residual functional capacity allows him or her to perform any past work. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(iv). If a claimant demonstrates that no past work can be performed, it then becomes incumbent upon the Commissioner to come forward with evidence that ...

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