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Sennello v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

January 22, 2019

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner for Operations, Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         Frederick Sennello (“Plaintiff”), proceeding pro se, filed a Social Security disability and supplemental security income claim under Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act, as amended by 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Nancy Berryhill, Deputy Commissioner for Operations (“Commissioner”) moved for an order affirming the Commissioner's decision. Mr. Sennello has not responded.

         For the following greasons, the Court GRANTS Defendant's motion to affirm the Commissioner's decision.


         A. Factual Allegations

         Mr. Sennello alleges that he suffers from chronic back and shoulder pain due to degenerative diseases in his cervical spine and a central disc protrusion in his lumbar spine. ECF No. 10-7, at 61. On February 22, 2015, Mr. Sennello saw Dr. Panagiotis Kompotiatis about his chronic back pain and explained that he had both a history of lifting heavy objects and increasing pain radiating from his lower back and neck. Id. A physical examination and March 13, 2015 MRI revealed that his cervical and lumbar spine revealed foraminal narrowing, spinal stenosis, neural foramen, cord compression, degenerative disk disease, and a small disk protrusion. Id. Beginning March 11, 2015, Mr. Sennello reported to physical therapy twice a week for eight weeks and his physical therapist gave him an at-home exercise plan. Id. Mr. Sennello's May 11, 2015 discharge indicated that he did not meet his long-term therapy goals. At a May 13, 2015 follow-up visit, Dr. Kompotiatis allegedly referred Mr. Sennello for neurosurgery treatment. Id.

         In addition to his physical limitations, Mr. Sennello claims that he suffers from depression, mood disorders, impulse control disorder, bipolar affective disorder, and anxiety. Id. He alleges that symptoms included loss of appetite, decreased focus, and lack of energy. Id. Throughout his treatment, Dr. Ljudmil Kljusev noted that Mr. Sennello's mood and affect were restricted and he showed signs of paranoia and pressured speech. Id.

         Mr. Sennello claims to have continued psychiatric treatment with Dr. Linda Wolf to regain the level of concentration needed to perform his job without stress distractions and impulses. Id. at 62. Dr. Lee Combrinck-Graham also noted that Mr. Sennello had a history of psychiatric treatment lasting more than twelve months, that he had experienced social withdrawal, and that he had received treatment at Lifebridge Community Services since May of 2014. Id. Moreover, Mr. Sennello's depressive symptoms affected his ability to perform daily activities, which resulted in limited social functioning, deficiencies in concentration and persistence, and an inability to complete tasks on time. Id. These deficiencies allegedly resulted in deteriorating work-life experiences. Id.

         Because of alleged right hip osteoarthritis, spinal stenosis, cervical degenerative disc disease, and bipolar disorder, Mr. Sennello sought Social Security disability benefits. ECF No. 1, at 2. Following a denial of his application for disability benefits, Mr. Sennello requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), which occurred on December 7, 2015. Id. at 3. At the ALJ hearing, Mr. Sennello made two arguments in favor of receiving Social Security disability benefits.

         First, Mr. Sennello's degenerative disc disease and nerve root compression have led to lower back pain, neck pain, and occasional right hand weakness. ECF No. 10-7, at 62. This caused reduced strength and range of motion in those areas, resulting in severe medical condition under 1.04(A). Id.

         Second, Mr. Sennello is unable to meet the demands of his past or any other work due to his medical conditions. Mr. Sennello argued that he was unable to undertake his former job as a material handler lifting up to fifty pounds during the twelve-hour shifts because he could no longer handle the walking, climbing, and standing associated with the job due to his physical pain. Id. at 63. Mr. Sennello also argued that he would not be able to attain gainful employment because of the above-mentioned limitations in his back, legs, shoulders, and hands. Id. In his view, the combination of physical limitations and mental health challenges resulted in an inability to sustain full-time work. Id.

         At the hearing, Mr. Sennello testified that he could work part-time, drive, dress himself, bathe himself, groom himself, do laundry, go grocery shopping, clean the house, but that completing household chores created some difficulty. ECF No. 10-3, at 49-50, 53. Mr. Sennello also cares for his wife, who is on disability. Id. at 53. Mr. Sennello testified that he received unemployment benefits, which indicated that he was willing and able to work. Id. at 49. But he argued that he could not work a full eight-hour day. Id. Mr. Sennello claimed that he had a driver's license and would be able to drive up to an hour. Id. at 52. He also testified that he had back, neck, and hip pain every day, and he testified that walking, lifting, or twisting aggravated his pain. Id. at 54-55.

         The ALJ also heard from a vocational expert who testified to Mr. Sennello's ability to work as an assembler, small products packer, and bench inspector. Id. at 8. In his post-hearing rebuttal, Mr. Sennello maintained that his debilitating conditions prohibited him from substantial gainful activity. ECF No. 10-7, at 65. Mr. Sennello objected to the four components of the expert's testimony and argued that: (1) the expert lacked qualifications to testify to jobs in the local, regional, or national economy; (2) the expert's methodology lacked relevant job data; (3) that jobs can be performed by unskilled workers; and (4) the expert's response to a hypothetical limitation on his ability to sit and stand. Id. at 65-67. Mr. Sennello ultimately questioned whether there were enough jobs in the national economy for him to be gainfully employed and argued that the unfavorable decision on the matter required a supplemental hearing. Id. at 68-69.

         On January 28, 2016, the ALJ denied Mr. Sennello's claim. ECF No. 1, at 3. And, on August 22, 2017, the Social Security Appeals Council affirmed the decision, which Mr. Sennello received on August 29, 2017. Id. According to the Appeals Council, although Mr. Sennello did not file his request for review on time, there was good reason for the delay. ECF No. 1-1. The Appeals Council nevertheless denied his request because it found no reason to disturb the ALJ's decision. Id. On appeal, Mr. Sennello ...

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