United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RULING ON CROSS MOTIONS TO REMAND AND AFFIRM DECISION
OF THE COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY
Jeffrey Alker Meyer, United States District Judge.
Todd Turcotte asserts that he is disabled and has brought
this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking
review of the final decision of defendant Commissioner of
Social Security denying Turcotte's disability claim. For
the reasons discussed below, I will deny Turcotte's
motion to remand the decision of the Commissioner (Doc. #23),
and grant the Commissioner's motion to affirm (Doc. #24).
Court refers to transcripts provided by the Commissioner.
See Doc. #15-1 through Doc. #15-13. Turcotte filed
an application for social security insurance on October 1,
2014, alleging disability beginning January 1, 2014. Doc.
#15-4 at 3-4. Turcotte was 49 years old at the time of his
application. Id. at 3. He left school in the eighth
grade and does not have a GED. Turcotte was self-employed as
a carpenter in residential construction from 2010 to 2013. He
was not working when he filed his initial claim for
disability. Id. at 4.
current claim for supplemental security income was denied
initially and upon reconsideration. Id. at 14, 31.
He then appeared and testified before Administrative Law
Judge (ALJ) Alexander Borre on March 7, 2017. Doc. #15-3 at
47. Turcotte was represented before the ALJ by an attorney
representative. Ibid. A vocational expert also
testified at the hearing. Ibid. On April 5, 2017,
the ALJ issued a decision holding that Turcotte was not
disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act.
Id. at 19-36. Turcotte applied to the Appeals
Council for review of the ALJ's decision and submitted
additional evidence from March 22, 2017, through March 29,
2017, to support his claim for disability with his
application. Id. at 10-18. The Appeals Council did
not consider the additional evidence because it “[did]
not show a reasonable probability that it would change the
outcome of the decision.” Id. at 3. The
Appeals Council denied Turcotte's request for review on
July 7, 2017, and he then filed this federal action.
Id. at 8-9.
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).
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”] ¶ 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 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).
here concluded that Turcotte was not disabled within the
meaning of the Social Security Act. At step one, the ALJ
determined that Turcotte had not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since October 1, 2014. Doc. #15-3 at 24. At
step two, the ALJ found that Turcotte suffers from the
following severe impairments: hepatitis C, left shoulder
tear, left knee osteoarthritis, degenerative disk disease,
depressive, bipolar and related disorders, post-traumatic
stress disorder (PTSD), and chronic obstructive pulmonary
disease (COPD). Ibid. The ALJ determined two of
Turcotte's other impairments to be non-severe
impairments, including carpal tunnel syndrome and peripheral
three, the ALJ determined that Turcotte did not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R.
Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Id. at 25.
four, the ALJ found that plaintiff had “the residual
functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20
C.F.R. [§] 416.967(b), ” but with the following
limitations: Turcotte “can occasionally climb ramps and
stairs, but never ladders, ropes or scaffolds. [Turcotte]
cannot tolerate exposure to hazards, such as unprotected
heights or open, moving machinery. He can frequently balance
and occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl.”
Id. at 28. In addition, Turcotte “is limited
to simple and repetitive tasks in an environment with no
strict time or production requirements [and] he can
occasionally interact with the public.” Ibid.
The ALJ further determined that Turcotte “can have no
exposure to dust, gas, fumes and other environmental
irritants[, and he] can do frequent fingering and handling
bilaterally and can occasionally reach overhead with his left
upper non-dominant extremity.” Ibid.
formulating this residual functional capacity (RFC), the ALJ
gave “partial weight” to the medical opinions of
all four state agency medical consultants, while giving
“little weight” to the medical opinion of both of
Turcotte's mental health evaluators and one of
Turcotte's health record evaluators. Id. at 34.
The ALJ also found Turcotte's testimony about his
symptoms to be only partially credible. Specifically, the ALJ
found that “[m]edical evidence reflects the
stabilization of [Turcotte's] symptoms with treatment,
and supports an ability to work within the residual
functional capacity” articulated by the ALJ.
Id. at 29. In addition, the ALJ found that
“statements concerning the intensity, persistence and
limiting effects of [his] symptoms [were] not entirely
consistent with the medical evidence and other evidence in
the record.” Ibid.
five, after considering Turcotte's age, education, work
experience, and RFC, the ALJ concluded that jobs that
Turcotte can perform exist in significant numbers in the
national economy. Id. at 33. This finding relied on
the testimony of vocational expert Hank Lerner, who testified
at the administrative hearing that an individual with
plaintiff's RFC and limitations (as determined by the
ALJ) could perform the requirements of representative
occupations such as pre-assembler printed circuit board,
production assembler, and compression molding ...