United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RULING RE: MOTION TO REVERSE DECISION OF THE
COMMISSIONER (DOC. NO. 25) & MOTION TO AFFIRM DECISION OF
THE COMMISSIONER (DOC. NO. 28)
C. Hall United States District Judge.
Julie Ann Miller (“Miller”) 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 her
application for Title II disability insurance benefits
(“SSDI”) and Title XVI supplemental security
income (“SSI”). See Complaint
(“Compl.”) (Doc. No. 1). Miller seeks reversal or
remand of the Decision rendered by Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) Ryan A. Alger, which affirmed the
Commissioner's denial. See Mot. to Reverse the
Decision of the Commissioner (“Mot. to Reverse”)
(Doc. No. 25). The Commissioner cross-moves for an order
affirming that Decision. See Mot. to Affirm the
Decision of the Comm'r (“Mot. to Affirm”)
(Doc. No. 28).
reasons set forth below, the Motion to Reverse or Remand is
DENIED. The Motion to Affirm the Decision of
the Commissioner is GRANTED.
applied for disability insurance benefits on April 21, 2015,
and supplemental security income benefits on April 25, 2015,
alleging a disability onset date of January 5, 2014 in both
applications. See R. at 18. The Commissioner denied
Miller's application initially on October 20, 2015, and
again upon reconsideration on April 20, 2016. See
id. Miller requested a hearing with an ALJ, which was
held before ALJ Alger on February 16, 2017. See id.
Miller did not attend the hearing, but an attorney
representing her was present. See id.
April 26, 2017, ALJ Alger issued an unfavorable decision for
Miller, affirming the Commissioner's denial and finding
that Miller was not disabled. See id. at 33.
Specifically, ALJ Alger found that Miller's impairments
did not meet or equal any listing, see id. at 22-24,
and that, with her level of residual functional capacity
(“RFC”), there were jobs in the national economy
that she could perform, see id. at 32. Miller
requested review by the Appeals Council, which denied the
request on May 23, 2017. See id. at 1-4 (Notice of
Appeals Council Action). Following that denial, ALJ
Alger's April 26, 2017 Decision became a final decision
reviewable by this court. See id. Miller filed this
appeal on October 13, 2017. See Compl.
was born in 1976, and she was 40 at the time of her hearing
in February 2017. See R. at 272. She was previously
employed as a bookkeeper and in accounts payable, before
leaving that work in 2014 due to pain from her medical
conditions. See id. at 274-75. Miller also worked
intermittently in 2016, though her income fell below the
level established for substantial gainful activity.
Id. at 234, 241.
medical history for the purpose of her disability claim
begins in January 2014, when she presented at a clinic
reporting of back pain. Id. at 336-37. An x-ray
revealed minor degenerative changes of the lower lumbar
spine. Id. at 338. Miller reported severe back pain
during a visit to UConn Health Center in May 2014.
Id. at 345. Imaging showed evidence of mild stenosis
and disc desiccation. Id. at 345, 347. During this
time period, Miller did not report radiculopathy.
Id. at 348.
also visited a physician at the Hartford Medical Group in May
2014. She again reported back pain, and examinations
indicated that, while she had full range of motion and walked
with a normal gait, the lumbar area was tender to the touch,
and a straight leg test resulted in increased pain.
Id. The treating medical provider also noted that
Miller presented with a depressed affect. Id. at
404. The treating provider noted similar mental and physical
impressions at an appointment in July 2014. See Id.
returned to Hartford Medical Group in February 2015. The
medical provider advised Miller to engage in relaxation
exercises, and to avoid heavy lifting. Id. at 430.
Miller presented with a normal gait, range of motion, and
muscle strength. Id. at 431. At a further
examination in April 2015, Miller again reported lower back
pain; a straight leg test was negative, and Miller had full
range of motion in the lumbar spine. Id. at 433-34.
saw Pamela Campbell, a registered nurse and licensed
therapist, for counseling, beginning in April 2015.
Id. at 369-71. Miller presented as neat, but with
restricted mood and a tense posture. Id. at 369.
Miller stated she sought therapy for assistance dealing with
the emotional side-effects of quitting smoking, as well as
for assistance with her struggle with back pain. Id.
June 2015 visit to Hartford Medical Group, Miller presented
with an “abnormal” mood, described as depressed,
dysphoric, and futile. Id. at 445. She was assessed
as presenting with acute anxiety and generalized anxiety
disorder. Id. at 443. Physically, however, Miller
presented with normal gait, and her musculature was described
as “grossly normal.” Id. at 445. In an
August 2015 visit to the same facility, Miller presented with
a normal mood and affect. Id. at 453.
attended two consultative examinations. The first took place
in August 2015. At that examination, Miller's range of
motion in her extremities was normal, as was her grip
strength and manipulation. Id. at 381. While Miller
presented with a normal gait and was able to move without
assistance, a straight leg test conducted during the exam was
positive bilaterally. Id. The second consultative
examination, this one psychological, took place in October
2015. Miller described her mental impairments, including
emotional distress and panic attacks. Id. at 386.
Miller reported that she was able to drive, go for walks, and
engage in yoga. Id. at 388. She presented as logical
and coherent, while displaying a depressed and tearful
affect. Id. at 386. Miller demonstrated an ability
to spell a word backwards, recall a series of digits, and
interpret a proverb. Id. at 387.
again visited Hartford Medical Group in November 2015. She
presented with back pain. The physician noted that it was
unclear why Miller's condition was causing her the
reported amount of pain, given the lack of significant
stenosis and because Miller was ambulating
“fine.” Id. at 483. The provider
concluded Miller should be referred to a pain specialist.
sought treatment with a licensed counselor in January 2016.
Miller presented as depressed and anxious, but cooperative.
Id. at 560. Miller also exhibited organized thinking
and intact cognition. Id. Miller was seen by a
different provider the following month. Id. at 570.
She presented with an “appropriate” affect, as
well as organized, logical thoughts. Id.
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). Substantial
evidence requires “more than a mere scintilla, ”
but is a “very deferential standard of review.”
Brault v. Soc. Sec. Admin., Comm'r, 683 F.3d
443, 447-48 (2d Cir. 2012). It requires “such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.” Id. at 448. If the
Commissioner's findings of fact are ...