Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Valentin v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

September 17, 2018

ELAINE ROSALY VALENTIN, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          RULING ON PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS AND DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR AN ORDER AFFIRMING THE DECISION OF THE COMMISSIONER

          Stefan R. Underhill United States District Judge.

         In the instant Social Security appeal, Elaine Rosaly Valentin moves to reverse the decision by the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denying her disability insurance benefits. The Commissioner of Social Security moves to affirm the decision. Because the decision by the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) was not supported by substantial evidence, I deny the Commissioner's motion and grant Valentin's.

         I. Standard of Review

         The SSA follows a five-step process to evaluate disability claims. Selian v. Astrue, 708 F.3d 409, 417 (2d Cir. 2013) (per curiam). First, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant currently engages in “substantial gainful activity.” Greek v. Colvin, 802 F.3d 370, 373 n.2 (2d Cir. 2015) (per curiam) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(b)). Second, if the claimant is not working, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant has a “‘severe' impairment, ” i.e., an impairment that limits his or her ability to do work-related activities (physical or mental). Id. (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 404.1521). Third, if the claimant does have a severe impairment, the Commissioner determines whether the impairment is considered “per se disabling” under SSA regulations. Id. (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526). If the impairment is not per se disabling, then, before proceeding to step four, the Commissioner determines the claimant's “residual functional capacity” based on “all the relevant medical and other evidence of record.” Id. (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), (e), 404.1545(a)). “Residual functional capacity” is defined as “what the claimant can still do despite the limitations imposed by his [or her] impairment.” Id. Fourth, the Commissioner decides whether the claimant's residual functional capacity allows him or her to return to “past relevant work.” Id. (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), (f), 404.1560(b)). Fifth, if the claimant cannot perform past relevant work, the Commissioner determines, “based on the claimant's residual functional capacity, ” whether the claimant can do “other work existing in significant numbers in the national economy.” Id. (20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g), 404.1560(b)). The process is “sequential, ” meaning that a petitioner will be judged disabled only if he or she satisfies all five criteria. See id.

         The claimant bears the ultimate burden to prove that he or she was disabled “throughout the period for which benefits are sought, ” as well as the burden of proof in the first four steps of the inquiry. Id. at 374 (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1512(a)); Selian, 708 F.3d at 418. If the claimant passes the first four steps, however, there is a “limited burden shift” to the Commissioner at step five. Poupore v. Astrue, 566 F.3d 303, 306 (2d Cir. 2009) (per curiam). At step five, the Commissioner need only show that “there is work in the national economy that the claimant can do; he need not provide additional evidence of the claimant's residual functional capacity.” Id.

         In reviewing a decision by the Commissioner, I conduct a “plenary review” of the administrative record but do not decide de novo whether a claimant is disabled. Brault v. Soc. Sec. Admin., Comm'r, 683 F.3d 443, 447 (2d Cir. 2012) (per curiam); see Mongeur v. Heckler, 722 F.2d 1033, 1038 (2d Cir. 1983) (per curiam) (“[T]he reviewing court is required to examine the entire record, including contradictory evidence and evidence from which conflicting inferences can be drawn.”). I may reverse the Commissioner's decision “only if it is based upon legal error or if the factual findings are not supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole.” Greek, 802 F.3d at 374-75. The “substantial evidence” standard is “very deferential, ” but it requires “more than a mere scintilla.” Brault, 683 F.3d at 447-48. Rather, substantial evidence means “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'” Greek, 802 F.3d at 375. Unless the Commissioner relied on an incorrect interpretation of the law, “[i]f there is substantial evidence to support the determination, it must be upheld.” Selian, 708 F.3d at 417.

         II. Facts

         Elaine Rosaly Valentin applied for Social Security disability insurance benefits on April 11, 2013, alleging a period of disability beginning January 31, 2013. Joint Stipulation of Facts, Doc. No. 16, at 2. Valentin identified her disability as including the following illnesses and conditions: “Ptsd, Major Depression, Anxiety, Bipolar, Paranoya [sic].” See Disability Determination Explanation, R. at 113.

         The SSA denied Valentin's claim on June 12, 2015, finding that Valentin's “ability to perform work at all exertional levels ha[d] been compromised by nonexertional limitations” but that “these limitations ha[d] little or no effect on the occupational base of unskilled work at all exertional levels.” Id. at 37. In the agency's view, Valentin was not disabled. Id.

         Valentin sought reconsideration, alleging that the ALJ “improperly evaluated the opinion evidence.” Representative Brief, dated 09/17/2015, from Gary C. Pernice, R. at 361. The SSA denied Valentin's request for review. AC Denial (ACDENY), dated 01/13/2017, at 1.

         Valentin requested a hearing before an ALJ, which was held on April 22, 2015. Tr. of ALJ Hr'g, R. at 45. At the hearing, ALJ Deirdre R. Horton questioned Valentin about her family, as well as her weight gain and medications and their side effects. Id. at 53-55. The ALJ also questioned Valentin about her job history, particularly asking her how much weight she lifted at various prior jobs and what kinds of tasks her positions had entailed. Id. at 55-60. ALJ Horton also questioned Valentin about her mental health history, suicide attempt, and treatment. Id. at 63-69.

         On June 12, 2015, the ALJ issued an opinion in which she found that Valentin “ha[d] not been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, from January 31, 2013, through the date of this decision.” ALJ Decision, R. at 37. At the first step, the ALJ found that Valentin “ha[d] not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 31, 2013, the alleged onset date.” Id. at 28. At the second step, the ALJ found that Valentin's “major depressive disorder; post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); generalized anxiety disorder; and panic disorder with agoraphobia” were “severe” impairments that “more than minimally affected [Valentin's] ability to engage in work-related activities.”[1] Id. At the third step, the ALJ determined that Valentin's impairments were not per se disabling because Valentin “d[id] not have an impairment or combination of impairments that me[t] or medically equal[ed] the severity of one of the listed impairments.” Id. at 29.

         The ALJ then assessed Valentin's residual functional capacity, and found that she could “perform a full range of work at all exertional levels” with certain nonexertional limitations. Those nonexertional limitations were that Valentin (1) “was able to engage in simple, routine tasks and occasional complex tasks” and (2) could “relate appropriately to others, but should not have interaction with the general public.” Id. at 30.

         Although Valentin's residual functional capacity precluded performance of “any past relevant work, ” ALJ Horton concluded that “there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that [Valentin] c[ould] perform.” Id. at 36-37. Although the ALJ found that Valentin's “ability to perform work at all exertional levels has been compromised by nonexertional limitations” she ruled that “these limitations ha[d] little or no effect on the occupational base of unskilled work at all exertional levels.” ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.