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Cintron v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

August 29, 2018




         The plaintiff, Lee Camacho Cintron, seeks judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of a final decision by the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying his applications for social security disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. The plaintiff asks the court to reverse the Commissioner's decision or, alternatively, remand for a rehearing. (Doc. #12.) The Commissioner, in turn, seeks an order affirming the decision. (Doc. #14.) For the reasons set forth below, the plaintiff's motion is granted and the defendant's motion is denied.[2]

         I. Administrative Proceedings

         In December 2011, the plaintiff filed applications alleging that he has been disabled since December 1, 2008. (R.[3] at 89.) The plaintiff's applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration. He requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). On May 30, 2014, the plaintiff, represented by counsel, testified at the hearing. A vocational expert also testified. On June 27, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision finding that the plaintiff was not disabled. (R. at 40-55.) The ALJ's decision became final on December 21, 2015, when the Appeals Council declined further review. (R. at 1.) This action followed.

         II. Standard of Review

         The court may reverse an ALJ's finding that a plaintiff is not disabled only if the ALJ applied the incorrect legal standards or if the decision is not supported by substantial evidence. Brault v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 683 F.3d 443, 447 (2d Cir. 2012). In determining whether the ALJ's findings "are supported by substantial evidence, 'the reviewing court is required to examine the entire record, including contradictory evidence and evidence from which conflicting inferences can be drawn.'" Talavera v. Astrue, 697 F.3d 145, 151 (2d Cir. 2012) (quoting Mongeur v. Heckler, 722 F.2d 1033, 1038 (2d Cir. 1983)). "Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla. ... It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Brault, 683 F.3d at 447 (quotation marks and citations omitted).

         III. Statutory Framework

         The Commissioner of Social Security uses the following five-step procedure to evaluate disability claims:

First, the [Commissioner] considers whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity. If he is not, the [Commissioner] next considers whether the claimant has a "severe impairment" which significantly limits his 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 which is listed in Appendix 1 of the regulations. If the claimant has such an impairment, the [Commissioner] will consider him disabled without considering vocational factors such as age, education, and work experience.... Assuming the claimant does not have a listed impairment, the fourth inquiry is whether, despite the claimant's severe impairment, he has the residual functional capacity to perform his past work. Finally, if the claimant is unable to perform his past work, the [Commissioner] then determines whether there is other work which the claimant could perform.

Rosa v. Callahan, 168 F.3d 72, 77 (2d Cir. 1999) (internal alterations and citation omitted).

         IV. The ALJ's Decision

         Following the five step evaluation process, the ALJ found that the plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset date. (R. at 42.) At step two, the ALJ concluded that the plaintiff had severe impairments of diabetes mellitus with neuropathy; high blood pressure; anxiety; depression; sleep apnea; mild restrictive airway disease; right carpal tunnel syndrome; lumbar stenosis at ¶ 5-Sl; and obesity. (R. at 43.) At step three, the ALJ found that the plaintiff's impairments, either alone or in combination, did not meet or medically equal the severity of a listed impairment in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (R. at 43.) The ALJ next determined that the plaintiff had

the residual functional capacity ("RFC")[4] to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) in that the claimant can lift and carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; and stand and walk four hours and sit for six hours during an eight-hour day. The claimant can never climb ladders, ramps or scaffolds; can occasionally climb stairs and rams, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. The claimant is limited to gross and fine manipulation bilaterally on a frequent basis and must avoid hazards and poorly ventilated areas. He is limited to understanding, remembering, and carrying out simple, routine, repetitive, non-complex tasks.

(R. at 46.) The ALJ concluded that the plaintiff was not capable of performing any past relevant work. (R. at 53.) At step five, after considering the plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC as well as the testimony of the vocational expert, the ALJ determined that the plaintiff could work as an assembler or collator operator. (R. ...

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