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Payamps v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

January 18, 2019

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          WILLIAM I. GARFINKEL United States Magistrate Judge


         This is an administrative appeal following the denial of the plaintiff, Jose Perlata Payamps's, application for Title II disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). 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 his case for a rehearing. [Doc. # 22]. The Commissioner, in turn, has moved for an order affirming her decision. [Doc. # 28]. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's motion is granted and the matter is remanded for additional proceedings consistent with this Ruling.


         Plaintiff filed his DIB application on October 8, 2014, alleging a disability onset date of August 20, 2014. His claims were denied at both the initial and reconsideration levels. Thereafter, Plaintiff requested a hearing. On February 3, 2017, a hearing was held before administrative law judge I.K. Harrington (the “ALJ”). Plaintiff appeared with an attorney. Plaintiff and a vocational expert (“VE”) testified at the hearing. On April 14, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff's claim. Plaintiff timely requested review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council. On October 16, 2017, the Appeals Council denied review, making the ALJ's decision the final determination of the Commissioner. This action followed.


         The ALJ followed the sequential evaluation process for assessing disability claims.[2] At Step One, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date. (R. 13). At Step Two, the ALJ found Plaintiff's degenerative disc disease and diabetes mellitus were severe impairments. (R. 13). At Step Three, the ALJ found these impairments did not meet or medically equal the severity of one of the listed impairments. (R.13-14). Next, the ALJ determined Plaintiff retained the following residual functional capacity[3]:

Plaintiff can perform light work except he is able to frequently balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and climb ramps and stairs. He is also able to occasionally climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds. He is able to have occasional exposure to unprotected heights. He requires using a cane outdoors.

(R. 14-19). At Step Four, the ALJ relied on the testimony of the VE to conclude that Plaintiff is capable of performing past relevant work as a short order cook or fried order cook. (R. 20).

         Accordingly, the ALJ found Plaintiff is not disabled under the Social Security Act.


         “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 does 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 ascertain whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal principles in reaching her conclusion, and 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). Further, 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 claimant's contrary position. Schauer v. Schweiker, 675 F.2d 55, 57 (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)). Substantial evidence must be “more than a scintilla or touch of proof here and there in the record.” Williams, 859 F.2d at 258.


         Plaintiff seeks remand of this matter, arguing that the RFC the ALJ assessed is unsupported by the evidence of record and is internally inconsistent. Specifically with respect to his inconsistency argument, Plaintiff posits that the limitation to requiring use of a cane outdoors is incompatible with the finding that he ...

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