United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RULING RE: MOTION TO REMAND/REVERSE THE
COMMISSIONER'S DECISION (DOC. NO. 18) & MOTION FOR AN
ORDER AFFIRMING THE DECISION OF THE COMMISSIONER (DOC. NO.
C. Hall United States District Judge
Domingos John Goncalves (“Goncalves”) brings this
appeal under section 405(g) of title 42 of the United States
Code from the final decision of the Commissioner of the
Social Security Administration (“SSA”), which
denied his application for Title II disability insurance
benefits and Title XVI supplemental security income benefits.
See Complaint (“Compl.”) (Doc. No. 1).
On this appeal, Goncalves challenges only the denial of
supplemental security income benefits, not the denial of
disability insurance benefits. See Plaintiff's
Memorandum in Support of Remand/Reversal (“Pl.'s
Mem.”) (Doc. No. 18-2) at 8-9. Goncalves seeks remand
of the Decision rendered by Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) Ronald J. Thomas, which Decision affirmed
the Commissioner's denial. See Plaintiff's
Motion to Remand/Reverse the Commissioner's Decision
(“Mot. to Remand”) (Doc. No. 18). The
Commissioner cross-moves for an order affirming that
Decision. See Defendant's Motion for an Order
Affirming the Decision of the Commissioner (“Mot. to
Affirm”) (Doc. No. 22).
reasons set forth below, Goncalves's Motion to
Remand/Reverse the Commissioner's Decision is granted.
The Commissioner's Motion to Affirm the Decision of the
Commissioner is denied.
applied for disability and supplemental security income
benefits on January 29, 2014, alleging a disability onset
date of November 15, 2011. See Stipulated Facts
(Doc. No. 18-1) at 1. The Commissioner denied Goncalves's
application initially, and again upon reconsideration.
See id. Goncalves requested a hearing with an ALJ,
which was held before ALJ Thomas on August 21, 2015. See
Id. A supplemental hearing was later held on March 4,
2016. See id.
27, 2016, ALJ Thomas issued an unfavorable decision for
Goncalves (the “Decision”), affirming the
Commissioner's denial and finding that Goncalves was not
disabled. See id. In making this Decision, the ALJ
followed the SSA's five-step evaluative process for
determining whether an individual is disabled. See
Certified Transcript of Record (“R.”) (Doc. Nos.
15-1 - 15-10) at 11-12. Specifically, at step two, ALJ Thomas
found that Goncalves had severe impairments in the form of
degenerative disc disease, mild chronic obstructive pulmonary
disease, obesity, learning disability, major depressive
disorder, and substance abuse. Id. at 13. At step
three, the ALJ determined that Goncalves did not have an
impairment, or combination of impairments, that met or
medically equaled the severity of any listed impairment.
Id. at 14. Next, the ALJ determined that Goncalves
had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to
perform light work with the following additional limitations:
(1) he could perform occasional bending, twisting, climbing,
balancing, crawling, squatting, and kneeling; (2) he required
an environment free from concentrated exposure to poor
ventilation, temperature extremes, odors, wetness, humidity,
dust, fumes, and gases; (3) he was capable of performing
simple, repetitive, routine tasks that do not require
teamwork or working closely with the public and that involve
only occasional interaction with coworkers, supervisors, and
the public. Id. at 18. At step four, the ALJ
determined that Goncalves could not perform his past relevant
work as a construction laborer. Id. at 25.
five, however, the ALJ found that Goncalves was not disabled
because he could perform jobs that existed in significant
numbers in the national economy. Id. at 26-27. In
making this determination, the ALJ first found that, if
Goncalves had the RFC to perform the full range of light
work, the Medical Vocational Rules, commonly known as
“the Grids, ” would direct a finding of
“not disabled” based on Goncalves's age,
education, and work experience. Id. at 26. However,
because the ALJ had determined that Goncalves's RFC
included additional limitations that prevented him from
performing the full range of light work, the ALJ proceeded to
solicit testimony from a vocational expert on the
availability of jobs in the national economy for an
individual with Goncalves's vocational work profile.
Id. On the basis of the vocational expert's
testimony, the ALJ concluded that Goncalves was capable of
performing work that was available in significant numbers in
the national economy. Id. at 27.
requested review by the Appeals Council, which denied the
request on September 7, 2017. See Stipulated Facts
¶ 3. Following that denial, ALJ Thomas's Decision
became a final decision reviewable by this court. Goncalves
then filed this appeal on November 1, 2017. See
generally Compl. In his appeal, Goncalves challenges
only the Commissioner's denial of supplemental security
income benefits, not the denial of disability insurance
benefits. See Pl.'s Mem. at 8-9.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
section 405(g) of title 42 of the United States Code, it is
not a function of the district court to review de
novo the ALJ's decision as to whether the claimant
was disabled. See Schaal v. Apfel, 134 F.3d 496, 501
(2d Cir. 1998). Instead, the court may only set aside an
ALJ's determination as to social security disability if
the decision “is based upon legal error or is not
supported by substantial evidence.” Balsamo v.
Chater, 142 F.3d 75, 79 (2d Cir. 1998). While
substantial evidence requires “more than a mere
scintilla, ” it is a “very deferential standard
of review” that only requires “such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind
might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Brault v. Soc. Sec. Admin., Comm'r, 683 F.3d
443, 447-48 (2d Cir. 2012) (emphasis in original). If the
Commissioner's findings of fact are supported by
substantial evidence, those findings are conclusive, and the
court may not substitute its judgment for that of the
Commissioner. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2016); see also
Yancey v. Apfel, 145 F.3d 106, 111 (2d Cir. 1998).
raises a single issue on appeal, namely, whether the ALJ
erred by failing to properly consider Goncalves's age
when conducting step five of the disability analysis.
See Pl.'s Mem. at 5-7. Specifically, Goncalves
notes that the ALJ classified him as “a person closely
approaching advanced age” (age 50-54), without
acknowledging or discussing the fact that, on the date of the
ALJ's Decision, Goncalves was less than five months away
from becoming “a person of advanced age” (age 55
or older). See id. at 8. In light of this
“borderline age situation, ” Goncalves argues,
the ALJ was required by law to consider whether
Goncalves's circumstances warranted moving him into the
older age category for the purposes of determining whether
Goncalves could perform work available in the national
economy. See id. at 10. Accordingly, Goncalves
claims that remand is required because the ALJ failed to
discuss his borderline age situation. See id. at 12.
Commissioner acknowledges that the ALJ's Decision does
not expressly discuss the issue of borderline age.
See Defendant's Memorandum in Support of
Affirming the Commissioner's Decision (“Def.'s
Mem.”) (Doc. No. 22-1) at 7. However, the Commissioner
argues that such a discussion was not required because
Goncalves was more than “a few months” away from
the next oldest age category, and therefore did not qualify
as a borderline age situation. See id. at 5. The
Commissioner also argues that, even if Goncalves's ...