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Kenny v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

September 24, 2018

MICHAEL PATRICK KENNY, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          RULING ON CROSS MOTIONS TO REMAND AND AFFIRM DECISION OF THE COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY

          Jeffrey Alker Meyer United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Michael Patrick Kenny alleges that he is disabled and unable to work due to several conditions. He filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking review of a final decision of defendant Commissioner of Social Security, who denied plaintiff's application for social security disability insurance benefits. For the reasons set forth below, I will deny plaintiff's motion to remand the decision of the Commissioner, and I will grant the Commissioner's motion to affirm the decision of the Commissioner.

         Background

         The Court refers to the transcripts provided by the Commissioner. See Doc. #13-1 through Doc. #13-10. Plaintiff filed an application for social security disability income on August 19, 2014, alleging a disability beginning on July 1, 2012. Plaintiff's claim was initially denied on January 6, 2015, and denied again upon reconsideration on June 29, 2015. He then filed a written request for a hearing on July 9, 2015.

         Plaintiff appeared and testified at a hearing before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) John Aletta on August 17, 2016. Plaintiff was represented by counsel. On October 28, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision concluding that plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. See Doc. #13-3 at 28-43. The Appeals Council affirmed the decision of the ALJ on May 30, 2017. Plaintiff then filed this federal action on July 14, 2017.

         To qualify as disabled, a claimant must show that he 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. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 423(d)(2)(A)). “[W]ork exists in the national economy when it exists in significant numbers either in the region where [a claimant] live[s] or in several other regions of the country, ” and “when there is a significant number of jobs (in one or more occupations) having requirements which [a claimant] [is] able to meet with his physical or mental abilities and vocational qualifications.” 20 C.F.R. § 416.966(a)-(b); see also Kennedy v. Astrue, 343 Fed.Appx. 719, 722 (2d Cir. 2009).

         To evaluate a claimant's disability, and to determine whether he 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 [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 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, [he] has the residual functional capacity to perform [his] past work. Finally, if the claimant is unable to perform [his] 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).

         The ALJ 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 December 31, 2015. Doc. #13-3 at 30. Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 1, 2012, the date of the alleged onset of his disability, through his date last insured. At Step Two, the ALJ found that plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments: “affective disorders, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, peripheral neuropathy and asthma.” Ibid.

         At Step Three, the ALJ determined that plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Id. at 32.

         At Step Four, the ALJ found that, through the date last insured, plaintiff “had the residual functional capacity to perform medium work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(c) except the claimant can tolerate no concentrated exposure to humidity, wetness or extreme cold. Further, the claimant is restricted to performing simple, routine tasks, with no contact with the public and occasional contact with co-workers and changes in his work setting should be limited to simple work-related decisions.” Id. at 34. The ALJ also concluded at Step Four that plaintiff was unable to perform any of his past relevant work. Id. at 41.

         At Step Five, after considering plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity (RFC), the ALJ concluded that, through the date last insured, there were jobs that plaintiff could perform that existed in significant numbers in the national economy. Id. at 42. In reaching this conclusion, the ALJ relied on the testimony of a vocational expert. The ALJ ultimately held that plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Id. at 43.

         On May 30, 2017, the Appeals Council affirmed the decision of the ALJ. Id. at 2. Plaintiff then timely ...


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