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DiMauro v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

August 15, 2018

MARY A. DIMAURO, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          RULING ON PENDING MOTIONS

          WILLIAM I. GARFINKEL, United States Magistrate Judge.

         This is an administrative appeal following the denial of the plaintiff, Mary DiMauro's, application for 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. # 18]. The Commissioner, in turn, has moved for an order affirming her decision. [Doc. # 19]. After careful consideration of the arguments raised by Plaintiff, and thorough review of the administrative record, the Court affirms the Commissioner's decision.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         “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). 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)). It must be “more than a scintilla or touch of proof here and there in the record.” Williams, 859 F.2d at 258. 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).

         BACKGROUND

         a. Facts

         Plaintiff filed her SSI application on November 8, 2012. Her claim was denied at both the initial and reconsideration levels. Thereafter, Plaintiff requested a hearing. On September 16, 2014, a hearing was held before administrative law judge Brian Curley (“the ALJ”). On October 16, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff's claim. Plaintiff then sought review with the Appeals Council. The Appeals Council denied review, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. This action followed.

         Plaintiff has a twelfth grade education and is fluent in English. (R. 285). She was forty-seven years old on the date the SSI application was filed. (R. 138). She has not worked since 1999. (R. 434). Plaintiff alleges disability as a result of a combination of mental and physical impairments.

         Plaintiff's complete medical history is set forth in the Joint Stipulation of Facts filed by the parties. [Doc. # 25]. The Court adopts this stipulation and incorporates it by reference herein.

         b. The ALJ's Decision

         The Commissioner must follow a sequential evaluation process for assessing disability claims. The five steps of this process are as follows: (1) the Commissioner considers whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) if not, the Commissioner considers whether the claimant has a “severe impairment” which limits his or her mental or physical ability to do basic work activities; (3) if the claimant has a “severe impairment, ” the Commissioner must ask whether, based solely on the medical evidence, the claimant has an impairment which “meets or equals” an impairment listed in Appendix 1 of the regulations (the Listings). If so, and it meets the durational requirements, the Commissioner will consider the claimant disabled, without considering vocational factors such as age, education, and work experience; (4) if not, the Commissioner then asks whether, despite the claimant's severe impairment, he or she has the residual functional capacity to perform his or her past work; and (5) if the claimant is unable to perform his or her past work, the Commissioner then determines whether there is other work in the national economy which the claimant can perform. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(i)-(v). The claimant bears the burden of proof on the first four steps, while the Commissioner bears the burden of proof on the final step. McIntyre v. Colvin, 758 F.3d 146, 149 (2d Cir. 2014).

         In this case, at Step One, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the SSI application date. (R. 132). At Step Two, the ALJ found Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: bipolar disorder; major depressive disorder; anxiety disorder; and personality disorder. (R. 132). At Step Three, the ALJ found Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments. (R. 133-34). Next, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retains the following residual functional capacity[2]:

Plaintiff can perform a full range of work at all exertion levels but with the following non-exertional limitations: She can understand, remember, and carry out very short, simple, and routine one to two step tasks. She can maintain concentration, persistence, and pace for two-hour periods in a work environment that is goal-oriented without strict time or production demands. She can accept instructions and respond appropriately to criticism from supervisors. She can get along with coworkers or peers without distracting them or exhibiting behavioral extremes. She can adapt to minor changes, avoid hazards, travel independently, and make simple plans. She is not suited to close work with the public. She must be in close proximity to a restroom.

(R. 135-38). At Step Four, the ALJ found Plaintiff has no past relevant work. (R. 138). Finally, at Step Five, the ALJ relied on the testimony of a vocational expert (“VE”) to conclude that there are jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy Plaintiff can perform. (R. 138). Specifically, the VE testified that a person with Plaintiff's vocational factors and the assessed RFC can perform the positions of dishwasher, hand packager inspector, and price marker. (R. 139). Accordingly, the ALJ found Plaintiff not to be disabled.

         DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff makes several arguments in support of her position that the ALJ's decision should be reversed. The ...


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