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
Erik Stuckman asserts that he is disabled and unable to work
due to severe headaches, hearing, balance, and mental health
issues resulting from a surgery he underwent in 2013 to
remove a brain tumor. He has brought this action pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review of the final decision
of defendant Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of
Social Security, who denied Stuckman's claim for
supplemental security income. For the reasons discussed
below, I will deny Stuckman's motion to remand the
decision of the Commissioner (Doc. #18) and grant the
Commissioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings (Doc.
refer to transcripts provided by the Commissioner.
See Doc. #12-1 through Doc. #12-8. Stuckman filed an
application for social security disability income on February
7, 2014, alleging a disability beginning on September 27,
2013. Doc. #12-3 at 40. Stuckman's claim was initially
denied on May 5, 2014 and denied again upon reconsideration
on November 13, 2014. He then filed a written request for a
hearing on January 12, 2015. Ibid.
appeared and testified at a hearing before Administrative Law
Judge (ALJ) Ronald J. Thomas on April 25, 2016.
Ibid. Stuckman was represented by counsel. On May
23, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision concluding that Stuckman
was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security
Act. Id. at 37-50. The Appeals Council affirmed the
decision of the ALJ on September 15, 2017. Id. at 2.
Stuckman then filed this federal action on November 15, 2017.
Doc. #1. In response, the Commissioner moved for judgment on
the pleadings, asking this Court to affirm her decision. Doc.
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”] in 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 Stuckman was not disabled within the
meaning of the Social Security Act. At Step One, the ALJ
determined based on Stuckman's employment history that he
will meet the insured status requirement of the Social
Security Act through December 31, 2019. Doc. #12-3 at 42.
Stuckman has not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since September 27, 2013, the date of the alleged onset of
his disability. Ibid.
Two, the ALJ found that Stuckman suffers from the following
severe impairments: acoustic neuroma s/p retrosigmoid
transtemporal resection, an affective disorder, and anxiety.
Three, the ALJ determined that Stuckman does not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that meets or
medically exceeds the severity of one of the listed
impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1.
Doc. #12-3 at 41-42. The ALJ did determine, however,
that Stuckman had “mild restriction” in
activities of daily living and “moderate
difficulties” with social functioning and
concentration, persistence, and pace. Id. at 43.
Four, the ALJ found that Stuckman has “the residual
functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20
C.F.R. [§] 416.967(b), ” but that he cannot be
exposed to dangers such as heights and moving machinery and
“must also avoid exposure to vibration, flashing lights
or use of a computer screen for a duration beyond 15 minute
at a time.” Doc. #12-3 at 44. The ALJ also found that
Stuckman can “understand, remember and carryout simple,
routine, and repetitive tasks” but is “limited to
only occasional contact with the general public, co-workers,
and supervisors.” Id. at 44-45. The ALJ found
that Stuckman is unable to perform his past work as a
fingerprint technician because the demands of that job
“exceed the exertional and nonexertional
limitations” of his RFC. Id. at 49.
formulating Stuckman's residual functional capacity
(RFC), the ALJ gave “little weight” to the
opinion of treating physician Dr. Paul Schwartz and
“only some weight” to the opinion of consultative
examiner Chery Ellis, Psy.D. Id. at 48. The ALJ gave
“great weight” to the opinions of state agency
consultants Carl Bankoff, MD and Joseph Connolly Jr., MD.
Id.; Doc. #12-4 at 2-25. The ALJ also found
Stuckman's testimony about his symptoms to be only
partially credible. Specifically, the ALJ found that
“the documentary medical evidence does not support the
level of limitation alleged.” Doc. #12-3 at 46. The ALJ
found that the medical evidence supports the type of
symptoms Stuckman alleges but not the “intensity,
persistence, and limiting effects” that Stuckman
attributes to them. Ibid. In the absence of a
medical source statement on Stuckman's ability to perform
basic work activity, and having accorded only
“little” and “some” ...