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Lyde v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

September 29, 2018

ELIZABETH T. LYDE, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

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

          JEFFREY ALKER MEYER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Elizabeth Lyde brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review of a final decision of the Social Security Administration denying her claim for supplemental security income and disability insurance benefits. For the reasons that follow, I will deny Lyde's motion to reverse the decision of the Commissioner (Doc. #22), and grant the Commissioner's motion to affirm (Doc. #23).

         Background

         The Court refers to the transcripts provided by the Commissioner. See Docs. #14-1 through #14-20, #21. Lyde first applied for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits on June 15, 2010, citing a number of impairments as sources of her disability, including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, personality disorders, substance dependence, obesity, carpal tunnel syndrome, and diabetes. An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) denied Lyde's initial claim for benefits in a ruling dated January 27, 2012. Lyde appealed this decision to the Appeals Council, which upheld the decision of the ALJ. On subsequent appeal to this Court, I remanded the case to the Commissioner to “evaluate the significance of [Lyde]'s non-exertional limitations and, if necessary, to consider vocational expert testimony as to [Lyde]'s ability to find work that exists in the national economy.” Lyde v. Colvin, 2016 WL 53822, at *8 (D. Conn. 2016).

         On remand, the Appeals Council vacated the ALJ's initial ruling and remanded the case for a complete reconsideration of Lyde's application. Doc. #14-12 at 53.

         To 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 h[er] previous work but cannot, considering h[er] 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 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”] ¶ 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 can find a claimant to be disabled or not disabled at a particular step and can 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).

         On October 26, 2016, the ALJ again determined that Lyde is not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. At Step One, the ALJ found that Lyde met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through June 30, 2012. Doc. #14-11 at 8. Lyde had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 1, 2008. Ibid. At Step Two, the ALJ ruled that Lyde has the following severe impairments: “diabetes mellitus, obesity, [and] major depressive disorder.” Ibid.[1]

         At Step Three, the ALJ determined that Lyde did not have any impairments or combination of impairments that meet or medically equal the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Id. at 9.

         At Step Four, the ALJ found that Lyde had “the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b).” Id. at 11. The ALJ also found that Lyde is subject to certain limitations in the type of work she can perform, including that “she is capable of sustaining simple, routine, repetitive work tasks that do not involve teamwork or closely working with the public; occasional bending, balancing, kneeling, twisting, squatting, crawling, and climbing but no climbing of ladders, ropes, or scaffolds.” Ibid. At Step Four, the ALJ also determined that Lyde was unable to perform any past relevant work. Id. at 16.

         At Step Five, after considering Lyde's age, education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ determined that “there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that [Lyde] can perform.” Ibid. The three jobs identified were garment sorter, housekeeper, and laundry worker. Id. at 17. The ALJ found that there are 950 jobs as a garment worker, 20, 560 jobs as a housekeeper, and 230 jobs as a laundry worker available in Connecticut. Ibid. He also found that there were 55, 700 jobs as a garment sorter, 1.6 million jobs as a housekeeper, and 231, 000 jobs as a laundry worker nationally. Ibid. As a result of the ALJ's conclusions concerning Lyde's RFC and her ability to engage in available jobs, the ALJ found that Lyde was not disabled. Id. at 18.

         Lyde has filed a motion to reverse the Commissioner's decision and to remand the case for a de novo hearing. The Commissioner has filed a cross motion seeking affirmance of the decision of the ALJ. For the reasons that follow, I will deny ...


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