United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RULING ON CROSS MOTIONS TO REMAND AND AFFIRM DECISION
OF THE COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY
Jeffrey Alker Meyer, United States District Judge.
Karen Emerick alleges that she is disabled and cannot work
because of complications from chronic Lyme disease. She filed
this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking
review of a final decision denying her application for social
security disability insurance benefits. For the reasons set
forth below, I will grant plaintiff's motion to remand
the decision of the Commissioner (Doc. #25), and I will deny
the Commissioner's motion to affirm the decision of the
Commissioner (Doc. #28).
Court refers to the transcripts provided by the Commissioner.
See Doc. #11-1 through Doc. #11-14. Plaintiff filed
an application for social security disability income on
August 5, 2013, alleging a disability beginning on February
1, 1997. Plaintiff's claim was initially denied on
November 22, 2013, and denied again upon reconsideration on
March 6, 2014. She then filed a written request for a hearing
on March 14, 2014.
appeared and testified at a hearing before Administrative Law
Judge (ALJ) John Noel on August 5, 2015. Plaintiff was not
represented by counsel. On September 16, 2015, the ALJ issued
a decision concluding that plaintiff was not disabled within
the meaning of the Social Security Act. See Doc.
#11-3 at 45-49. The Appeals Council affirmed the decision of
the ALJ on March 21, 2017. Plaintiff then filed this federal
action on April 20, 2017.
qualify as disabled, a claimant must show that she is unable
“to engage in any substantial gainful activity by
reason of any medically determinable physical or mental
impairment which . . . has lasted or can be expected to last
for a continuous period of not less than 12 months, ”
and “the impairment must be ‘of such severity
that [the claimant] is not only unable to do his previous
work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work
experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful
work which exists in the national economy.'”
Robinson v. Concentra Health Servs., Inc., 781 F.3d
42, 45 (2d Cir. 2015) (quoting 42 U.S.C. §§
evaluate a claimant's disability, and to determine
whether she qualifies for benefits, the agency engages in the
following five-step process:
First, the Commissioner considers whether the claimant is
currently engaged in substantial gainful activity. Where the
claimant is not, the Commissioner next considers whether the
claimant has a “severe impairment” that
significantly limits her 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 that is
listed [in the so-called “Listings”] in 20
C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1. If the claimant has a
listed impairment, the Commissioner will consider the
claimant disabled without considering vocational factors such
as age, education, and work experience; the Commissioner
presumes that a claimant who is afflicted with a listed
impairment is unable to perform substantial gainful activity.
Assuming the claimant does not have a listed impairment, the
fourth inquiry is whether, despite the claimant's severe
impairment, she has the residual functional capacity to
perform her past work. Finally, if the claimant is unable to
perform her past work, the burden then shifts to the
Commissioner to determine whether there is other work which
the claimant could perform.
Cage v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 692 F.3d 118,
122-23 (2d Cir. 2012) (alteration in original) (citation
omitted); see also 20 C.F.R. §
416.920(a)(4)(i)-(v). In applying this framework, an ALJ may
find a claimant to be disabled or not disabled at a
particular step and may make a decision without proceeding to
the next step. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4).
The claimant bears the burden of proving the case at Steps
One through Four; at Step Five, the burden shifts to the
Commissioner to demonstrate that there is other work that the
claimant can perform. See McIntyre v. Colvin, 758
F.3d 146, 150 (2d Cir. 2014).
concluded that plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning
of the Social Security Act. At Step One, the ALJ determined
that plaintiff last met the insured status requirement of the
Social Security Act on June 30, 2001. Doc. #11-3 at 47.
Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since February 1, 1997, through her date of last insured.
Two, the ALJ found that plaintiff did not have any medically
determinable impairments as of her date of last insured.
Id. at 48. The ALJ concluded the analysis at Step
Two and found that plaintiff was not disabled within the
meaning of the Social Security Act. Id. at 49.
contends that the ALJ erred in finding that she did not have
a medically determinable impairment as of her date last
insured. The ALJ reached this conclusion after discrediting
the finding of Enrico Liva, plaintiff's provider during
the relevant period, because Liva is a
“naturopath” and not a licensed physician. Doc.
#11-3 at 48-49. The parties do not dispute that
“naturopaths” are not acceptable medical sources
and “cannot establish the existence of a medically
determinable impairment.” SSR 06-03P, 2006 WL 2329939,
at *2 (Aug. 9, 2006).
also acknowledged that plaintiff first tested positive for
Lyme disease in July 2005 and was diagnosed with Lyme disease
by Dr. Kornelia Keszler in September 2006. Doc. #11-3 at 49.
But the ALJ concluded that the positive test and diagnosis
failed to retroactively establish the existence of a
medically determinable impairment prior to 2001.
Ibid. Furthermore, the ALJ also rejected the opinion
of Dr. Lois Wurzel, a state agency medical consultant,
because Dr. Wurzel relied on Liva's findings. The ALJ
therefore concluded that there were “no ...