United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RULING ON THE PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO REVERSE THE
DECISION OF THE COMMISSIONER AND ON THE DEFENDANT'S
MOTION FOR AN ORDER AFFIRMING THE DECISION OF THE
M. Spector United States Magistrate Judge.
action, filed under § 205(g) of the Social Security Act,
42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeks review of a final decision by
the Commissioner of Social Security [“SSA”]
denying the plaintiff Disability Insurance benefits
about March 14, 2014, the plaintiff filed an application for
DIB benefits claiming she has been disabled since January 1,
2009 due to degenerative hip disease, arthritis in her left
hip, “right hip condition[, ]” and bilateral knee
“condition[.]” (Certified Transcript of
Administrative Proceedings, dated November 28, 2017
[“Tr.”] 171-72, 195, 198, 231, 233). The
plaintiff's application was denied initially (Tr.
108-11), and upon reconsideration. (Tr. 114-16). On October
21, 2014, the plaintiff requested a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge [“ALJ”] (Tr. 117-18),
and on May 12, 2016, a hearing was held before ALJ John Noel,
at which the plaintiff and a vocational expert testified.
(Tr. 44-77; see Tr. 148-70). On June 23, 2016, the
ALJ issued an unfavorable decision denying the
plaintiff's claim for benefits. (Tr. 16-26). On July 19,
2016, the Appeals Council received the plaintiff's
request for review of the hearing decision (Tr. 9-10), and on
July 26, 2017, the Appeals Council denied the request,
thereby rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision
of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-3).
September 26, 2017, the plaintiff filed her complaint in this
pending action (Doc. No. 1), and on December 18, 2017, the
defendant filed her answer and administrative transcript,
dated November 28, 2017. (Doc. No. 14). On January 26, 2018,
the parties consented to the jurisdiction of a United States
Magistrate Judge (see Doc. No. 18); the case was
transferred to Magistrate Judge Joan G. Margolis. (Doc. No.
19). On February 20, 2018, the plaintiff filed her Motion for
Reversal or Remand (Doc. No. 20), with Statement of Material
Facts (Doc. No. 20-1) and brief in support (Doc. No. 20-2
[“Pl.'s Mem.”]). On March 21, 2018, the
defendant filed her Motion to Affirm (Doc. No. 21), and brief
in support (Doc. No. 21-1 [“Def.'s Mem.”]).
On May 1, 2018, this case was reassigned to this Magistrate
Judge. (Doc. No. 23).
reasons stated below, the plaintiff's Motion to Reverse
the Decision of the Commissioner (Doc. No. 20) is
denied, and the defendant's Motion to Affirm
(Doc. No. 21) is granted.
time that the plaintiff filed her application for benefits,
she was 58 years old and living in an in-law apartment
attached to her daughter's home. (Tr. 171-72, 211). The
plaintiff attended college for three years. (Tr. 199). She
worked as a sales representative for fifteen years before she
“became unable to work.” (Tr. 200). Prior to
working as a sales representative, she worked as an owner and
director of a nursery school and worked at an indoor plant
landscaping business. (Tr. 240).
plaintiff reported in her application for benefits that she
stopped working as a sales representative when the company
“downsized.” (Tr. 199). The plaintiff explained
that her “degenerative hip disease was diagnosed in
2005. Although for a time [she] worked, while suffering,
[she] became severely unable to work around 2008/2009, after
[she] stopped working for [her] employer.” (Tr. 199).
The plaintiff, however, also testified that in 2010, she was
able to care for her father by making him meals and keeping
him company. (Tr. 62-63, 65). According to the plaintiff, by
2013, she could not stand for an hour, nor could she walk for
a city block because walking made her pain “[h]orribly
worse.” (Tr. 62, 66). She claimed that her gait was
“very unstable” in 2013 as well. (Tr. 70). She
could not stand in place because of pain, so she solicited
help from “good friends” and her daughter. (Tr.
67). Additionally, she could sit for “maybe 20 minutes
to a half an hour depending on the day[.]” (Tr. 71).
She could spend only 15 to 20 minutes out of an eight-hour
day on the computer. (Tr. 72). The plaintiff could perform
household cleaning tasks, and her adult daughter would help,
especially with tasks involving bending and lifting. (Tr.
63-64). Her chores would “take . . . a lot more time
and [the] chores [would] have to be spread out.” (Tr.
212). The plaintiff also testified that she has had trouble
sleeping due to pain since 2005. (Tr. 68).
hearing, a vocational expert testified that a hypothetical
individual who is limited to the full range of light work,
with the ability to occasionally climb ramps or stairs, never
climb ladders or scaffolds, and occasionally balance, stoop,
kneel, crouch and crawl, could perform the plaintiff's
past work as a director of a preschool program, a sales
representative, and a customer service representative. (Tr.
75-76). If that hypothetical person was limited to sedentary
work, the person could perform work as a “customer
service representative[, ]” but could not perform the
two jobs that the plaintiff performed previously. (Tr. 76).
If the hypothetical person was off task ten percent of the
time, or absent one day a month, it “would be very
difficult to maintain any type of employment.” (Tr.
76). Additionally, if the “worker took three additional
[break] periods of 10 to 15 minutes, each time throughout the
hour[, ]” that person could not maintain employment.
THE ALJ'S DECISION
the five-step evaluation process,  the ALJ found that the
plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity
during the period from her alleged onset date of January 1,
2009 through her date last insured of March 31, 2013. (Tr.
21, citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1571 et seq.). The
ALJ concluded that, through her date last insured, the
plaintiff had the severe impairment of bilateral hip
degenerative joint disease (Tr. 20-21, citing 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(c)), but that the plaintiff did not
have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled the severity of a listed impairment in 20
C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (Tr. 22, citing 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526). The
ALJ found that, after careful consideration of the entire
record, the plaintiff had the residual functional capacity
[“RFC”] to perform light work as defined in 20
C.F.R. § 404.1567(b) except she could only occasionally
climb ramps and stairs, never climb ladders, ropes and
scaffolds, and occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch,
and crawl. (Tr. 22-25). The ALJ concluded that, through her
date last insured, the plaintiff could perform her past
relevant work as a sales representative, and that work did
not require the performance of work-related activities
precluded by the claimant's residual functional capacity.
(Tr. 25, citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1565). Accordingly, the
ALJ concluded that the plaintiff was not under a disability
at any time from January 1, 2009, the alleged onset date,
through March 31, 2013, the date last insured. (Tr. 26,
citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f)).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
scope of review of a Social Security disability determination
involves two levels of inquiry. First, the court must decide
whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal principles
in making the determination. Second, the court must decide
whether the determination is supported by substantial
evidence. See Balsamo v. Chater, 142 F.3d 75, 79 (2d
Cir. 1998) (citation omitted). The court may “set aside
the Commissioner's determination that a claimant is not
disabled only if the factual findings are not supported by
substantial evidence or if the decision is based on legal
error.” Burgess v. Astrue, 537 F.3d 117, 127
(2d Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks & citation
omitted); see also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Substantial evidence is evidence that a reasonable mind would
accept as adequate to support a conclusion; it is more than a
“mere scintilla.” Richardson v. Perales,
402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (citation omitted); see Yancey
v. Apfel, 145 F.3d 106, 111 (2d Cir. 1998) (citation
omitted). The substantial evidence rule also applies to
inferences and conclusions that are drawn from findings of
fact. See Gonzalez v. Apfel, 23 F.Supp.2d 179, 189
(D. Conn. 1998) (citation omitted); Rodriguez v.
Califano, 431 F.Supp. 421, 423 (S.D.N.Y. 1977)
(citations omitted). However, the court may not decide facts,
reweigh evidence, or substitute its judgment for that of the
Commissioner. See Dotson v. Shalala, 1 F.3d 571, 577
(7th Cir. 1993) (citation omitted). Instead, the court must
scrutinize the entire record to determine the reasonableness
of the ALJ's factual findings. See Id.
Furthermore, the Commissioner's findings are conclusive
if supported by substantial evidence and should be upheld
even in those cases where the reviewing court might have
found otherwise. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g);
see also Beauvoir v. Chater, 104 F.3d 1432, 1433 (2d
Cir. 1997) (citation omitted); Eastman v. Barnhart,
241 F.Supp.2d 160, 168 (D. Conn. 2003).
plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred in his review of the
medical evidence as the medical evidence and testimony
“indicated onset prior to the [date last insured] per
[Social Security Ruling] 83-20[.]” (Pl.'s Mem. at
8-12). Specifically, the plaintiff argues that, under SSR
83-20, the ALJ should have considered the slow progression of
her impairment, the date that she stopped working, and the
opinion of a medical expert. (Pl.'s Mem. at 8-15).
Additionally, the plaintiff contends that the ALJ
“misstated the record” in his discussion of Dr.
Phillip Mongelluzzo's opinion; he mischaracterized the
evidence after the evaluation of Dr. Robert Kennon; he
erroneously interpreted the phrase “doing
well”; and, he erred in his treatment of Dr.
Mongelluzzo's and Dr. Kennon's opinions. (Pl.'s
Mem. at 15-25). The plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in
his assessment of the lack of medical treatment (Pl.'s
Mem. at 25-27) and erred in his decision that the
plaintiff's impairment did not meet Listing 1.02 because
there was no evidence of ineffective ambulation. (Pl.'s
Mem. at 27-32). Finally, the plaintiff argues that the ALJ
erred in his credibility determination. (Pl.'s Mem. at
response, the defendant contends that the ALJ did not err in
concluding that the plaintiff's lumbar spine impairment
did not satisfy Listing 1.02 (Def.'s Mem. at 6-8);
substantial evidence supports the ALJ's RFC determination
(Def.'s Mem. at 8-18); and, SSR 83-20 is inapplicable to
the plaintiff's case as SSR 83-20 “only applies
when a claimant has been found disabled and is necessary to
determine a disability onset date.” (Def.'s Mem. at
plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred in her conclusion that
the plaintiff's impairment does not meet ...