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Monahan v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

January 31, 2019



          Jeffrey Alker Meyer, United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Cheryl A. Monahan 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 Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, who denied Monahan's application for supplemental security income. For the reasons set forth below, I will deny Monahan's motion to reverse the Commissioner's decision (Doc. #25), and grant the motion to affirm the Commissioner's decision (Doc. #28).


         I refer to the transcripts provided by the Commissioner. See Doc. #20-1 through Doc. #20-15. Monahan filed an application for supplemental security income on October 22, 2014, alleging a disability beginning on August 15, 2013. Doc. #20-7 at 3. Monahan's claim was initially denied in February of 2015, id. at 18, and denied again upon reconsideration on September 11, 2015, Doc. #20-8, at 14-16. She then filed a request for a hearing on September 21, 2015. Id. at 17-18.

         Monahan appeared and testified at a hearing in New Haven before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Deirdre R. Horton on December 2, 2016. Doc. #20-6 at 2. Monahan was represented by counsel. Ibid. On March 22, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision concluding that Monahan was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. See Doc. #20-3 at 24. The Appeals Council denied Monahan's request for review on December 6, 2017. Id. at 2. Monahan then filed this case on February 2, 2018. Doc. #1.

         To 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), 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).

         To 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).

         The ALJ concluded that Monahan was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. At Step One, the ALJ concluded Monahan had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since October 22, 2014, the date of her application for benefits. Doc. #20-3 at 14. At Step Two, the ALJ found that Monahan suffered from the following severe impairments: “bilateral Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Mild; Osteoarthritis; Depressive Disorder; and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.” Ibid. The ALJ also took note of Monahan's history of drug addiction and alcoholism, but did not find that history to be a severe impairment. Id. at 15.

         At Step Three, the ALJ determined that Monahan 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. Ibid. The ALJ considered Monahan's physical impairments as well as her mental impairments. Ibid.

         Moving to Step Four, the ALJ then found that Monahan “had the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b) except the claimant is limited to limited lifting and carrying to 10 pounds. She is also limited to occasional ramps and stairs, ladders, balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, and crawling. The claimant is limited to frequent handling and fingering. She is also limited to simple routine tasks. She should work in an environment with only minor changes in routine. The claimant works best on tasks alone, rather than in groups or teams and she should have only occasional interaction with the general public.” Id. at 16-17. At Step Four, the ALJ concluded that Monahan had no past relevant work that she could be capable of performing. Id. at 22.

         At Step Five, after considering Monahan's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity (“RFC”), the ALJ concluded that there were jobs that Monahan could perform that existed in significant numbers in the national economy. Id. at 23. In reaching this conclusion, the ALJ relied on the testimony of a vocational expert. Ibid. The ALJ ...

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