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Leary v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

December 11, 2018



          Donna F. Martinez United States Magistrate Judge

         The plaintiff, Andrew Lamar Leary, seeks judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of a final decision by the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying his application for supplemental security income. Pending before the court are the plaintiff's motion to reverse the Commissioner's decision (doc. #21) and the Commissioner's motion to affirm the decision. (Doc. #26.) For the reasons set forth below, the plaintiff's motion is denied and the defendant's motion is granted.[1]

         I. Administrative Proceedings

         On October 17, 2013, the plaintiff applied for supplemental security income alleging that he was unable to work due to depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and back and neck injuries. (R. at 80.) The Social Security Administration denied the plaintiff's application initially and on reconsideration. The plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. A hearing was held on December 29, 2015, at which the plaintiff, represented by counsel, and a vocational expert testified. On February 3, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision finding that the plaintiff was not disabled under the Social Security Act. On April 27, 2017, the Appeals Council denied the plaintiff's request for review. This action followed.

         II. Facts and Legal Standard

         The court assumes the parties' familiarity with the plaintiff's medical history (summarized in a stipulation of facts filed by the parties, doc. #21-2, which are adopted and incorporated herein by reference), and the five sequential steps used in the analysis of disability claims. The court cites only those portions of the records and the legal standard necessary to explain this ruling.

         III. The ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ first determined that the plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since October 17, 2013, the alleged onset date. At step two, the ALJ found that the plaintiff had severe impairments of "organic brain syndrome, substance abuse disorder (drugs and alcohol), anxiety disorder, and affective disorder." (R. at 17.) At step three, the ALJ found that the plaintiff "does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1[.]" (R. at 18.) Specifically, the ALJ found that the plaintiff's impairments, considered singly and in combination, did not meet or medically equal the criteria of listings 12.04 (affective disorders), 12.05 (intellectual disability), 12.06 (anxiety disorders) and 12.09 (substance addiction disorders.) The ALJ next found that the plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform medium work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967(c) but with the limitations that he could "only frequently stoop, crouch, and crawl"; could "perform only simple, routine, and repetitive tasks but not any production pace"; and could "deal with changes in a work setting limited to simple work-related decisions." (R. at 21.) At step 4, the ALJ found that the plaintiff had no past relevant work. At step 5, after considering plaintiff's age, education, work experience, residual functional capacity, and the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ found that there existed jobs in significant numbers in the national economy that the plaintiff could perform. (R. at 30.) Accordingly, the ALJ determined that the plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act from October 17, 2013, through the date of the decision, February 2016. (R. at 30.)

         IV. Standard of Review

         This court's review of the ALJ's decision is limited. "It is not [the court's] function to determine de novo whether [the plaintiff] is disabled." Pratts v. Chater, 94 F.3d 34, 37 (2d Cir. 1996). The court may reverse an ALJ's finding that a plaintiff is not disabled only if the ALJ applied incorrect legal standards or if the decision is not supported by substantial evidence. Brault v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 683 F.3d 443, 447 (2d Cir. 2012). In determining whether the ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence, "'the reviewing court is required to examine the entire record, including contradictory evidence and evidence from which conflicting inferences can be drawn.'" Talavera v. Astrue, 697 F.3d 145, 151 (2d Cir. 2012) (quoting Mongeur v. Heckler, 722 F.2d 1033, 1038 (2d Cir. 1983)). "Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla. . . . It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Brault, 683 F.3d at 447 (quotation marks and citations omitted). It is "a very deferential standard of review-even more so than the clearly erroneous standard. . . . The substantial evidence standard means once an ALJ finds facts, [the court] can reject those facts only if a reasonable factfinder would have to conclude otherwise." Id. at 447-48. "Even where the administrative record may also adequately support contrary findings on particular issues, the ALJ's factual findings must be given conclusive effect so long as they are supported by substantial evidence." Genier v. Astrue, 606 F.3d 46, 49 (2d Cir. 2010) (internal quotation marks omitted). See also Bonet ex rel. T.B. v. Colvin, 523 Fed.Appx. 58, 59 (2d Cir. 2013)("[W]hether there is substantial evidence supporting the appellant's view is not the question here; rather, we must decide whether substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision.")(citations omitted)(emphasis in original).

         V. Discussion

         The plaintiff argues that the ALJ's finding at step 3 that the plaintiff does not meet Listing 12.05C, which sets forth the conditions under which a person is intellectually disabled, is not supported by substantial evidence.[2]

         The plaintiff bears "the burden of proof at step three to show that [his] impairments meet or medically equal a Listing." Whitley v. Colvin, No. 3:17CV121(SALM), 2018 WL 1026849, at *8 (D. Conn. Feb. 23, 2018). "For a claimant to show that his impairment matches a listing, it must meet all of the specified medical criteria. An impairment that manifests only some of those criteria, no matter how ...

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