United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RULING ON CROSS MOTIONS TO REVERSE AND AFFIRM
DECISION OF THE COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY
Jeffrey Alker Meyer United States District Judge.
Pamela Ella Lewis asserts that she is disabled and unable to
work due to several conditions. 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 in part Lewis's motion to remand the
decision of the Commissioner (Doc. #24), and I will deny the
Commissioner's motion to affirm the decision of the
Commissioner (Doc. #26).
to the transcripts provided by the Commissioner. See
Doc. #23-1 through Doc. #23-9. Lewis filed an application for
social security disability income on January 9, 2014,
alleging a disability beginning on January 11, 2013. Doc.
#23-6 at 2-3. Her claim was initially denied on March 17,
2014, Doc. #23-5 at 7-12, and denied again upon
reconsideration on May 30, 2014. Id. at 19-28. She
then filed a request for a hearing on July 7, 2014.
Id. at 29-30.
appeared and testified at a hearing before Administrative Law
Judge (ALJ) Ronald J. Thomas on February 27, 2016. Doc. #23-3
at 72. She was represented by counsel. Ibid. A
vocational expert testified at the hearing. Ibid. On
June 24, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision concluding that
Lewis was not disabled within the meaning of the Social
Security Act. See Id. at 34. The Appeals Council
denied Lewis's request for review on September 12, 2017.
Id. at 6. Lewis then filed this federal action on
February 2, 2018. Doc. #1.
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. §§
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).
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 also20 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. See20 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 Lewis was not disabled within the meaning of
the Social Security Act. At Step One, the ALJ determined that
Lewis last met the insured status requirement of the Social
Security Act on December 31, 2016. Doc. #23-3 at 19. The ALJ
concluded Lewis had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since January 11, 2013, the date of the alleged
onset of her disability, through her date of last insured.
Ibid. At Step Two, the ALJ found that Lewis suffered
from the following severe impairments: “fibromyalgia,
obstructive sleep apnea with shortness of breath, obesity,
anxiety and depression.” Ibid. The ALJ also
took note of evidence that Lewis also had been evaluated and
treated for “gastroesophegal reflux disease (GERD),
irritable bowel syndrome, migraine headaches and left foot
neuropathy, ” but did not find any of those conditions
to constitute a severe impairment. Ibid.
Three, the ALJ determined that Lewis 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 21. The ALJ did determine, however, that
Lewis had moderate difficulties “[w]ith regard to
concentration, persistence, or pace.” Id. at
found that, through the date of last insured, Lewis
“had the residual functional capacity to perform light
work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b)”
but that she needs “a work environment free from
concentrated exposure to poor ventilation, temperature
extremes, fumes, dusts, gases, odors, humidity and
wetness.” Id. at 25. The ALJ also found that
Lewis “can only occasionally balance, twist, squat,
bend, kneel, crawl and climb, and can have occasional
interaction with supervisors, coworkers and the general
public.” Ibid. At Step Four, the ALJ then
concluded that Lewis “is capable of performing past
relevant work as an administrative assistant, payroll clerk
and graphic designer.” Id. at 32. The ALJ
relied on the testimony of a vocational expert in arriving at
this conclusion. Ibid.
also made an alternative Step Five finding, where, after
considering Lewis's age, education, work experience, and
residual functional capacity (“RFC”), the ALJ
concluded that, through the date of last insured, there were
jobs that Lewis could perform that existed in significant
numbers in the national economy. Id. at 33. As with
the ALJ's Step Four finding, in reaching this conclusion,
the ALJ relied on the testimony of a vocational ...