United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RULING RE: MOTION FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS (DOC.
NO. 16) & MOTION TO AFFIRM THE DECISION OF THE
COMMISSIONER (DOC. NO. 20)
C. Hall, United States District Judge
Jennifer Lee Greene (“Greene”) brings this appeal
under section 405(g) of title 42 of the United States Code
from the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social
Security Administration (“SSA”), which denied her
application for Title II disability insurance benefits and
Title XVI supplemental security income. See
Complaint (“Compl.”) (Doc. No. 1). Greene seeks
either reversal or remand of the Decision rendered by
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Ronald J.
Thomas, which affirmed the Commissioner's denial.
See Mot. for Judgment on the Pleadings (“Mot.
to Reverse”) (Doc. No. 16). The Commissioner
cross-moves for an order affirming that Decision.
See Mot. to Affirm the Decision of the Comm'r
(“Mot. to Affirm”) (Doc. No. 20).
reasons set forth below, the Motion for Judgment on the
Pleadings is GRANTED. The Motion to Affirm
the Decision of the Commissioner is DENIED.
applied for disability insurance benefits on January 5, 2015,
and supplemental security income benefits on July 22, 2015,
alleging a disability onset date of November 17, 2013, in
both applications. See R. at 18. The Commissioner
denied Greene's application initially on May 13, 2015,
and again upon reconsideration on October 29, 2015. See
id. Greene requested a hearing with an ALJ, which was
held before ALJ Thomas on October 26, 2016. See id.
February 22, 2017, ALJ Thomas issued an unfavorable decision
for Greene, affirming the Commissioner's denial and
finding that Greene was not disabled. See Id. at
35-36. Specifically, ALJ Thomas found that Greene's
impairments did not meet or equal any listing, see
id. at 22-25, and that, with her level of residual
functional capacity (“RFC”), there were jobs in
the national economy that she could perform, see id.
at 34- 35. Greene requested review by the Appeals Council,
which denied the request on May 23, 2017. See Compl.
at 2 ¶ 11. Following that denial, ALJ Thomas's
February 22, 2017 Decision became a final decision reviewable
by this court. See R. at 1 (Notice of Appeals
Council Action). Greene then filed this appeal on July 24,
2017. See Compl.
court adopts the facts as stated in the parties' Joint
Stipulation of Facts (“Stipulation”) (Doc. No.
18), and it will therefore only briefly describe the facts
relevant to this opinion.
was 38 at the time of her hearing in February 2017.
See R. at 400. She was last employed as a childcare
worker in 2013, when she began experiencing pain that
prevented her from lifting and tending to children. See
id. at 49. The record in this case begins in September
2013, when Greene saw Dr. Katherine Kedziersky due to pain in
her head, neck, arms, hands, thighs, calves, and back that
she could not trace to a particular cause and was not
responding to physical therapy or medication. See
Stipulation at 2. Beginning in January 2014, Greene saw
several physician assistants at My Health 1st Urgent Care.
See id. at 9-16. On November 10, 2014, Greene began
being treated by Dr. John McDougall, a rheumatologist at Yale
New Haven Medical Center, for her chronic pain. See
id. After Dr. McDougall moved to another hospital in
June 2015, Greene established care with Dr. Kofi Mensah,
another rheumatologist at Yale New Haven Medical Center,
beginning on February 8, 2016. See id. at 6. Drs.
McDougall and Mensah both diagnosed Greene with fibromyalgia.
See id. at 4, 8.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
section 405(g) of title 42 of the United States Code, it is
not a function of the district court to review de
novo the ALJ's decision as to whether the claimant
was disabled. See Schaal v. Apfel, 134 F.3d 496, 501
(2d Cir. 1998). Instead, the court may only set aside an
ALJ's determination as to social security disability if
the decision “is based upon legal error or is not
supported by substantial evidence.” Balsamo v.
Chater, 142 F.3d 75, 79 (2d Cir. 1998). Substantial
evidence requires “more than a mere scintilla, ”
but is a “very deferential standard of review.”
Brault v. Soc. Sec. Admin., Comm'r, 683 F.3d
443, 447-48 (2d Cir. 2012). It requires “such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.” Id. at 448. If the
Commissioner's findings of fact are supported by
substantial evidence, those findings are conclusive, and the
court will not substitute its judgment for the
Commissioner's. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2016); see
also Yancey v. Apfel, 145 F.3d 106, 111 (2d Cir. 1998).
argues that ALJ Thomas's decision should be reversed or
remanded for three reasons. First, she argues that the ALJ
failed to properly apply the treating physician rule to Dr.
McDougall's July 2015 opinion and Dr. Mensah's
September 2016 opinion. See Mem. of Law in Supp. of
Pl.'s Mot. for J. on the Pleadings (“Pl.'s
Mem.”) at 1-5. Second, she argues that the ALJ
committed legal error when evaluating her symptoms. See
id. at 7-12. Third, Greene argues that the ALJ's
assessment of her Residual Functional Capacity
(“RFC”) was not supported by substantial
evidence. See id. at 5-6.
Treating Physician Rule
regulations give the opinions of treating physicians
“controlling weight, ” so long as those opinions
are “well-supported by medically acceptable clinical
and laboratory diagnostic techniques and [are] not
inconsistent with the other substantial evidence in . . .
[the] record.” 20 C.F.R. §
416.927(c)(2); see also Lesterhuis v. Colvin,
805 F.3d 83, 88 (2d Cir. 2015). In other words, “the
SSA recognizes a ‘treating physician' rule of
deference to the views of the physician who has engaged in
the primary treatment of the claimant.” Burgess v.
Astrue, 537 F.3d 117, 128 (2d Cir. 2008) (quoting
Green-Younger v. Barnhart, 335 F.3d 99, 106 (2d Cir.
2003)). “Even if the treating physician's opinion
is contradicted by other substantial evidence, and so is not
controlling, it may still be entitled to significant weight
‘because the treating source is inherently more
familiar with a claimant's medical condition than are
other sources.'” Tankisi v. Comm'r of
Social Sec., 521 Fed.Appx. 29, 33 (2d Cir. 2013)
(Summary Order) (quoting Schisler v. Bowen, 851 F.2d
43, 47 (2d Cir. 1988)).
declined to give controlling weight to either Dr. McDougall
or Dr. Mensah's medical source statements. See
R. at 32-33. Greene argues that the ALJ erred by rejecting
specific physical limitations described by Greene's
treating rheumatologists and instead relying on a letter Dr.
McDougall wrote to Greene's counsel several months after
his first opinion in which he made the vague statement that
Greene could perform light duty work. See Pl.'s
Mem. at 2. She also argues that the ALJ failed to assess the
factors he was obligated to consider when assigning value to
the medical opinions short of controlling weight. See
id. at 4. The Commissioner argues that, after reviewing
the medical record to reconcile the inconsistency between Dr.
McDougall's two medical opinions, the ALJ properly found
that, apart from Dr. McDougall's letter, the medical
opinions were not supported by the record. See
Def.'s Mem. in Supp. of Her Mot. for an Order Affirming
the Feb. 22, 2017 Final Decision Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
405(g) (“Def.'s Mem.”) (Doc. No. 20) at 3-6.
28, 2015, Dr. McDougall completed a fibromyalgia
questionnaire regarding Greene's condition. See
R. at 641-45. Dr. McDougall indicated that Greene had
“widespread pain or a history of widespread pain in all
quadrants of the body that has persisted for at least 3
months” and had tender points in her shoulders, elbows,
hips, knees, and chest. R. at 642. He noted that Greene
experiences chronic pain in her chest, lower back, shoulder
girdles, upper and lower arms, upper legs, and hips. See
id. He also observed that Greene had several symptoms,
signs, or co-occurring conditions of ...