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Gonzalez v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

December 18, 2018

SHARON IGARAVIDEZ GONZALEZ, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          RULING ON PENDING MOTIONS

          WILLIAM I. GARFINKEL UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This is an administrative appeal following the denial of the plaintiff, Sharon Igaravidez Gonzalez's, applications for Title II disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and Title XVI supplemental security income benefits (“SSI”). It is brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).[1]Plaintiff now moves for an order reversing the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“the Commissioner”), or in the alternative, an order remanding her case for a rehearing. [Doc. # 20]. The Commissioner, in turn, has moved for an order affirming her decision. [Doc. # 21]. After careful consideration of the arguments raised by Plaintiff, and thorough review of the administrative record, the Court affirms the Commissioner's decision.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         “A district court reviewing a final . . . decision [of the Commissioner of Social Security] pursuant to section 205(g) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), is performing an appellate function.” Zambrana v. Califano, 651 F.2d 842 (2d Cir. 1981). “The findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, [are] conclusive . . . .” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Accordingly, the district court may not make a de novo determination of whether a plaintiff is disabled in reviewing a denial of disability benefits. Id.; Wagner v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 906 F.2d 856, 860 (2d Cir. 1990). Rather, the court's function is to first ascertain whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal principles in reaching her conclusion, and then whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence. Johnson v. Bowen, 817 F.2d 983, 985 (2d Cir. 1987). Therefore, absent legal error, a decision of the Commissioner cannot be set aside if it is supported by substantial evidence. Berry v. Schweiker, 675 F.2d 464, 467 (2d Cir. 1982). Substantial evidence is “‘such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'” Williams v. Bowen, 859 F.2d 255, 258 (2d Cir. 1988) (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). It must be “more than a scintilla or touch of proof here and there in the record.” Williams, 859 F.2d at 258. If the Commissioner's decision is supported by substantial evidence, that decision will be sustained, even where there may also be substantial evidence to support the plaintiff's contrary position. Schauer v. Schweiker, 675 F.2d 55, 57 (2d Cir. 1982).

         BACKGROUND

         a. Facts

          Plaintiff filed applications for DIB and SSI on May 6, 2014, alleging a disability onset date of November 1, 2013. Her claims were denied at both the initial and reconsideration levels. Thereafter, Plaintiff requested a hearing. On September 26, 2016, a hearing was held before administrative law judge Eskunder Boyd (the “ALJ”). On December 6, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff's claims. The Appeals Council denied review of the ALJ's unfavorable decision. This action followed.

         Plaintiff was thirty-three years old on the alleged disability onset date. (R. 26). She has a twelfth-grade education. (R. 45). She cannot communicate in English. (R. 45). Plaintiff last worked in 2012. (R. 51). She has past employment experience as a factor worker and assembly line worker. (R. 26).

         Plaintiff's complete medical history is set forth in the Joint Stipulation of Facts filed by the parties. [Doc. # 20-2]. The Court adopts this stipulation and incorporates it by reference herein.

         b. The ALJ's Decision:

         The Commissioner must follow a sequential evaluation process for assessing disability claims. The five steps of this process are as follows: (1) the Commissioner considers whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) if not, the Commissioner considers whether the claimant has a “severe impairment” which limits his or her mental or physical ability to do basic work activities; (3) if the claimant has a “severe impairment, ” the Commissioner must ask whether, based solely on the medical evidence, the claimant has an impairment which “meets or equals” an impairment listed in Appendix 1 of the regulations (the Listings). If so, and it meets the durational requirements, the Commissioner will consider the claimant disabled, without considering vocational factors such as age, education, and work experience; (4) if not, the Commissioner then asks whether, despite the claimant's severe impairment, he or she has the residual functional capacity to perform his or her past work; and (5) if the claimant is unable to perform his or her past work, the Commissioner then determines whether there is other work in the national economy which the claimant can perform. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520; 416.920. The claimant bears the burden of proof on the first four steps, while the Commissioner bears the burden of proof on the final step. McIntyre v. Colvin, 758 F.3d 146, 149 (2d Cir. 2014).

         In this case, at Step One, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date. (R. 17). At Step Two, the ALJ found the following severe impairments: Asthma; Crohn's Disease; Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; Depressive Disorder; and Anxiety Disorder. (R. 17). At Step Three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments. (R. 28). Next, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retains the following residual functional capacity[2]:

Plaintiff can perform sedentary work except she requires a sit/stand option defined as sitting for forty-five minutes, alternate to standing position for five minutes, then resume sitting. She may never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, but may occasionally balance, stop, crouch, kneel, and crawl. She should not work with exposure to temperature extremes and should avoid even moderate exposure to pulmonary irritants. She is able to perform simple, routine, repetitive tasks and is able to sustain concentration, persistence, or pace for two-hour segments with occasional interaction with coworkers and no interaction with the public. The work should involve little to no changes in duties or routines and should not require independent judgment making with no setting work duties or schedules for others, and no responsibility for the safety of others. She must receive instructions orally or by demonstration and not in written form.

(R. 20-6). At Step Four, the ALJ found Plaintiff unable to perform any past relevant work. (R.26). Finally, at Step Five, the ALJ relied on the testimony of a vocational expert to find that there are jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform. (R. 27). Specifically, the ALJ found Plaintiff can perform the positions of visual inspector, novelty assembler, and quality control weight tester/inspector. (R. 27). Accordingly, the ALJ found Plaintiff not to be disabled.

         DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff makes several arguments in support of her position that the ALJ's decision should be reversed. The Court will address these points in turn.

         1. Findings regarding ...


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