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
Aurora Torres-Cruz asserts that she is disabled and unable to
work due to several conditions. She filed this action
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking review of a final
decision of defendant Commissioner of Social Security, who
denied plaintiff's application for social security
disability insurance benefits. Plaintiff has filed a motion
to reverse or remand the decision of the Commissioner (Doc.
#17), and defendant has filed a motion to affirm the decision
of the Commissioner (Doc. #24). For the reasons set forth
below, I will grant the motion to remand and deny the motion
to affirm the decision of the Commissioner.
Court refers to the transcripts provided by the Commissioner.
See Doc. #13-1 through Doc. #13-15. Plaintiff filed
an application for social security disability income on
October 20, 2014, alleging a disability beginning on November
27, 2013. Plaintiff's claim was initially denied on
February 4, 2015, and denied again upon reconsideration on
April 30, 2015. She then filed a written request for a
hearing on May 11, 2015.
appeared and testified at a hearing before Administrative Law
Judge (ALJ) Catherine Ma on May 4, 2016. Plaintiff was
assisted by a Spanish interpreter, but she was not
represented by counsel. On June 28, 2016, the ALJ issued a
decision concluding that plaintiff was not disabled within
the meaning of the Social Security Act. See Doc.
#13-3 at 31-44. The Appeals Council affirmed the decision of
the ALJ on July 25, 2017. Id. at 2. Plaintiff then
filed this federal action on September 14, 2017.
qualify as disabled, a claimant must show that she 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), (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 she 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 her 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, she has the residual functional capacity to
perform her past work. Finally, if the claimant is unable to
perform her 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 also20 C.F.R. §
416.920(a)(4)(i)-(v). In applying this framework, an ALJ may
find a claimant to be disabled or not disabled at a
particular step and may make a decision without proceeding to
the next step. See20 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).
concluded that plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning
of the Social Security Act. At Step One, the ALJ determined
that plaintiff meets the insured status requirements of the
Social Security Act through December 31, 2018. Doc. #13-3 at
33. Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since November 27, 2013, the date of the alleged onset of her
disability. Ibid. At Step Two, the ALJ found that
plaintiff suffered from the following severe impairments:
“degenerative disk disease, degenerative joint disease,
and obesity.” Ibid. The ALJ concluded that
plaintiff's medically determinable impairments of
hypertension and depression were non-severe. Id. at
Three, the ALJ determined that plaintiff did not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled the severity of one of the listed
impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
Id. at 36.
Four, the ALJ found that, through the date of last insured,
plaintiff “had the residual functional capacity to
perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and
416.967(b) except she can only frequently climb ramps and
stairs. She can never climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds.
She can frequently kneel and crouch. She can occasionally
crawl. She can perform frequent bilateral handling. She can
occasional use foot controls bilaterally.” Id.
plaintiff's credibility, the ALJ concluded that
plaintiff's “statements concerning the intensity,
persistence and limiting effects of [her] symptoms are not
entirely consistent with the medical evidence and other
evidence in the record.” Id. at 38.
also concluded at Step Four that plaintiff was capable of
performing her past relevant work as a ...