United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RULING ON PENDING MOTIONS
WILLIAM I. GARFINKEL UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
an administrative appeal following the denial of the
plaintiff, Antonina Mattioli's, application for Title II
disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and Title
XVI supplemental security income benefits
(“SSI”). It is brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). Plaintiff now moves for an order reversing
the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration (“the Commissioner”), or in the
alternative, an order remanding her case for a rehearing.
[Doc. # 17]. The Commissioner, in turn, has moved for an
order affirming her decision. [Doc. # 23]. After careful
consideration of the arguments both parties presented, the
matter is remanded for additional proceedings.
district court reviewing a final . . . decision [of the
Commissioner of Social Security] pursuant to section 205(g)
of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), is
performing an appellate function.” Zambrana v.
Califano, 651 F.2d 842 (2d Cir. 1981). “The
findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any
fact, if supported by substantial evidence, [are] conclusive
. . . .” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Accordingly, the
district court may not make a de novo determination
of whether a plaintiff is disabled in reviewing a denial of
disability benefits. Id.; Wagner v. Sec'y of
Health & Human Servs., 906 F.2d 856, 860 (2d Cir.
1990). Rather, the court's function is to first ascertain
whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal principles
in reaching her conclusion, and then whether the decision is
supported by substantial evidence. Johnson v. Bowen,
817 F.2d 983, 985 (2d Cir. 1987). Therefore, absent legal
error, a decision of the Commissioner cannot be set aside if
it is supported by substantial evidence. Berry v.
Schweiker, 675 F.2d 464, 467 (2d Cir. 1982). Substantial
evidence is “‘such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.'” Williams v. Bowen, 859 F.2d
255, 258 (2d Cir. 1988) (quoting Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). It must be
“more than a scintilla or touch of proof here and there
in the record.” Williams, 859 F.2d at 258. If
the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial
evidence, that decision will be sustained, even where there
may also be substantial evidence to support the
plaintiff's contrary position. Schauer v.
Schweiker, 675 F.2d 55, 57 (2d Cir. 1982).
filed her DIB and SSI applications on June 20, 2011, alleging
a disability onset date of January 1, 2011. With respect to
the DIB claim, she last met the insured status requirements
of the Social Security Act on December 31,
2011. Plaintiff's claim was denied at both
the initial and reconsideration levels. Thereafter, Plaintiff
requested a hearing. On September 4, 2012, a hearing was held
before administrative law judge Ronald J. Thomas (“the
ALJ”). On September 21, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision
denying Plaintiff's claim. Plaintiff then sought review
with the Appeals Council. After the Appeals Council denied
review, Plaintiff appealed to the District of Connecticut. On
September 16, 2015, the district court remanded the matter to
the ALJ to evaluate the significance of Plaintiff's
non-exertional limitations, and, if necessary, to obtain
vocational testimony as to Plaintiff's ability to find
work that exists in the national economy. See Mattioli v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., No. 14-cv-182(JAM) (Doc. # 25),
(D. Conn. Aug. 11, 2015).
held a subsequent hearing on March 27, 2017. On June 19,
2017, the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff's
claim. Plaintiff again sought review with the Appeals
Council. The Appeals Council denied review, making the
ALJ's 2017 decision the final decision of the
Commissioner. This action followed.
ALJ's 2017 decision follows the sequential evaluation
process for assessing disability claims. At Step One, the
ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since the alleged onset date. (R. 576). At
Step Two, the ALJ found Plaintiff had the following severe
impairments: major depressive disorder; generalized anxiety
disorder; diabetes; hypothyroidism; bilateral shoulder tears,
status post surgery; arthralgia; and sleep apnea. (R. 576).
At Step Three, the ALJ found Plaintiff did not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled the severity of one of the listed
impairments. (R. 576-78). Next, the ALJ determined Plaintiff
retained the following residual functional
capacity during the relevant period:
Plaintiff could perform medium work except she can occasionally
interact with the public, supervisors, and coworkers; she
cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; and she can
occasionally reach overhead with the right dominant master
(R. 597-82). At Step Four, the ALJ found Plaintiff was able
to perform her past work as a housekeeper. (R. 582). Finally,
the ALJ made an alternative determination that, at Step Five,
there are jobs existing in significant numbers in the
national economy Plaintiff could perform. (R. 583).
Accordingly, the ALJ found Plaintiff not to be disabled.
complete medical history is set forth in the Joint
Stipulation of Facts filed by the parties. [Doc. # 17-3]. The
Court adopts the stipulation and incorporates it by reference
regulations and governing Social Security Rulings were
amended during the pendency of the case. “These new
rules generally apply to claims filed either on or after
January 17, 2017 or March 27, 2017, depending on the
regulation.” Cobb v. Berryhill, No.
4:17-CV-00106-A, 2017 WL 6492078, at *4 n. 2 (N.D. Tex. Nov.
29, 2017), report and recommendation adopted, No.
4:17-CV-106-A, 2017 WL 6493237 (N.D. Tex. Dec. 15, 2017)
(citing 81 Fed. Reg. 66138-01, 2016 WL 5341732 (F.R. Sept.
26, 2016)). District courts are “generally to apply
those rules that were in effect at the time the ALJ issued
[the] decision.” Id. (citing 81 Fed. Reg.
66138-01, fn.1 (“We expect that Federal courts will
review our final decisions using the rules that were in
effect at the time we issued the decisions.”)).
the amended regulations and Rulings are those applicable to
evaluation of the severity of mental impairments.
See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920a. This evaluation
requires “application of a ‘special
technique' at the second and third steps of the five-step
framework, and at each level of administrative review.”
Kohler v. Astrue, 546 F.3d 260, 265 (2d Cir. 2008)
(citation omitted). The special technique obliges the
reviewer to first determine whether the claimant has a
medically determinable impairment. 20 C.F.R. §
416.920a(b)(1). If the claimant is found to have such an
impairment, the reviewer must then “rate the degree of
functional limitation resulting from the impairment(s) in
accordance with paragraph (c).” 20 C.F.R. §
416.920a(b)(2). Paragraph (c) specifies four broad ...