United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RULING ON PENDING MOTIONS
WILLIAM I. GARFINKEL UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
an administrative appeal following the denial of the
plaintiff, Patrick Jerome Bromell's, application for
Title II disability insurance benefits (“DIB”).
It is brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). 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 his case for a rehearing.
[Doc. # 19]. The Commissioner, in turn, has moved for an
order affirming her decision. [Doc. # 21]. After careful
consideration of the arguments raised by both sides, and
thorough review of the administrative record, the matter is
remanded for additional proceedings.
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).
filed an application for DIB on May 20, 2014, alleging a
disability onset date of October 14, 2013. His claim was
denied at both the initial and reconsideration levels.
Thereafter, Plaintiff requested a hearing. On December 21,
2015, a hearing was held before administrative law judge
Eskunder Boyd (“the ALJ”). On January 25, 2016,
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.
was fifty years old on the date of the hearing before the
ALJ. (R. 38). He has a high school education. (R. 39). He
last worked in January 2013 as a tractor trailer driver. (R.
40). He suffered a stroke in February, 2014, and experienced
residual effects including weakness and numbness on the right
side of the body, particularly in the right hand and arm, and
some cognitive problems. (T. 36). Plaintiff is right handed.
complete medical history is set forth in the Statement of
Facts filed by each side. [Doc. # # 19-1, 21-2]. The Court
adopts the facts as set forth collectively and incorporates
these Statements by reference herein.
The ALJ's Decision
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 him or her 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. § 404.1520
(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).
case, the ALJ divided Plaintiff's claim into three
different time periods: from the alleged onset date of
October 14, 2013 through January 31, 2014; from February 1,
2014 through February 10, 2015; and from February 11, 2015
through the date of the hearing.
first time period, the ALJ found, at Step One, that Plaintiff
had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the
alleged disability onset date. (R. 15). At Step Two, the ALJ
found that Plaintiff's cardiomyopathy was a severe
impairment. (R. 15). The ALJ found, at Step Three, that this
impairment did not meet or equal the severity of one of the
listed impairments. (R. 15-16). Next, the ALJ determined
Plaintiff retained the following residual functional
capacity prior to February 1, 2014:
Plaintiff could perform light work except he could never
climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; occasionally climb stairs
or ramps; occasionally balance; occasionally stoop or crouch;
never kneel or crawl; occasionally reach overhead; frequently
handle or finger with the right hand but no limits with the
left hand; and no exposure to extreme cold in the work
environment. He could perform simple, routine, repetitive
tasks; sustain ...