United States District Court, D. Connecticut
HARRY MONTALVO MENDEZ, JR.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY
RULING ON THE PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO REVERSE THE
DECISION OF THE COMMISSIONER AND ON THE DEFENDANT'S
MOTION TO AFFIRM THE DECISION OF THE COMMISSIONER
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” or
“the Commissioner”] denying the plaintiff's
application for Supplemental Security Income
[“SSI”] and Social Security Disability Insurance
about April 14, 2014, the plaintiff filed an application for
SSDI benefits claiming that he has been disabled since
November 24, 2013, due to arthritis and a bulging disc in his
neck, spondylosis, stenosis, a tumor above his spine, and
muscle spasms. (Doc. No. 21 (Certified Transcript of
Administrative Proceedings, dated February 12, 2018
[“Tr.”]) 94-95, 105-06, 123, 129; see
Tr. 202-03). The Commissioner denied the plaintiff's
application initially and upon reconsideration. (Tr. 94-104,
105-17; see also Tr. 122-26, 128-31). On February
12, 2015, the plaintiff requested a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge [“ALJ”] (Tr. 132-33),
and filed an application for SSI benefits (Tr. 204-12). On
June 23, 2016, a hearing was held before ALJ Alexander Peter
Borre, at which the plaintiff and a vocational expert, James
Cohen, Ph.D., testified. (Tr. 50-93; see Tr. 14-37,
162-90, 296-98). On September 15, 2016, the ALJ issued an
unfavorable decision denying the plaintiff's claim for
benefits. (Tr. 14-37). On November 17, 2016, the plaintiff
requested review of the hearing decision (Tr. 197-201), and
on November 9, 2017, the Appeals Council denied the
plaintiff's request for review, thereby rendering the
ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner.
plaintiff filed his complaint in this pending action on
January 2, 2018. (Doc. No. 1). On March 28, 2018, the case
was reassigned to United States District Judge Vanessa L.
Bryant. (Doc. No. 15). On April 12, 2018, the parties
consented to jurisdiction by a United States Magistrate
Judge, and the defendant filed a corrected certified
administrative transcript. (Doc. Nos. 19-21). On April 13, 2018,
the case was reassigned to Magistrate Judge Joan G. Margolis.
(Doc. No. 24). The case was then transferred to this
Magistrate Judge on May 1, 2018. (Doc. No. 26). On May 4,
2018, the plaintiff filed his Motion to Reverse the Decision
of the Commissioner (Doc. No. 27), with brief in support
(Doc. No. 27-1 [Pl.'s Mem.]), and a stipulation of facts
(Doc. No. 27-2). On August 1, 2018, the defendant filed her
Motion to Affirm the Decision of the Commissioner (Doc. No.
30), with brief in support. (Doc. No. 30-1 [Def.'s
reasons stated below, the plaintiff's Motion to Reverse
the Decision of the Commissioner (Doc. No. 27) is GRANTED,
and the defendant's Motion to Affirm (Doc. No. 30) is
Court presumes the parties' familiarity with the
plaintiff's medical history, which is thoroughly
discussed in the Joint Stipulation of Facts (Doc. No. 27-1).
The Court cites only the portions of the record that are
necessary to explain this decision.
THE ALJ'S DECISION
the five-step evaluation process,  the ALJ found that the
plaintiff's date last insured was December 31, 2018, and
that the plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since his alleged onset date of November 24, 2013,
through his date last insured. (Tr. 20, citing 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1571 et seq., and 416.971, et
seq.). The ALJ concluded that, as of the date last
insured, the plaintiff had the following severe impairments:
“cervical degenerative disc disease status post two
cervical fusion surgeries and depression.” (Tr. 20,
citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)). At
step three, the ALJ concluded that the plaintiff did not have
an impairment or a 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.
(Tr. 21, citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525,
404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925, and 416.926). The ALJ found
that the plaintiff had the residual functional capacity
[“RFC”] to perform sedentary work, as defined in
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a), except
that he could never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; could
not tolerate exposure to hazards such as open, moving
machinery; could occasionally climb ramps and stairs; could
occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and reach
overhead bilaterally; could frequently finger and handle
bilaterally; and was limited to simple and repetitive tasks.
(Tr. 23). At step four, the ALJ concluded that the plaintiff
was unable to perform any past relevant work. (Tr. 29, citing
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1565 and 416.965). At step five,
after considering the plaintiff's age, education, work
experience, and RFC, the ALJ concluded that there were
significant numbers of jobs in the national economy that the
plaintiff could perform. (Tr. 30, citing 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1569, 404.1569(a), 416.969, and 416.969(a)).
Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that the plaintiff was not
under a disability, as defined in the Social Security Act, at
any time from the alleged onset date of November 24, 2013,
through the date of his decision.(Tr. 31, citing 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(g) and 416.920(g)).
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. See Balsamo v. Chater,
142 F.3d 75, 79 (2d Cir. 1998) (citation omitted). Second,
the court must decide whether substantial evidence supports
the determination. See Id. 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) (citation and internal quotations marks
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).
appeal, the plaintiff contends that the ALJ erred in two
respects. First, the plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to
assess properly the plaintiff's complaints of pain and
failed to consider adequately the medical and non-medical
opinions concerning the effects of the plaintiff's pain.
(Pl.'s Mem. at 2-12). Second, the plaintiff argues that
the ALJ failed to apply properly the treating physician rule
when weighing the opinions of the plaintiff's primary
care physician, Dr. David DeLucia. (Pl.'s Mem. at 12-15).
The defendant responds that the ALJ was correct in
determining that the plaintiff's complaints of pain were
not entirely credible and in affording little weight to Dr.
DeLucia's opinion. (Def.'s Mem. at 4-10). The Court
agrees with the plaintiff's first argument that remand ...