United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RULING ON PENDING MOTIONS
WILLIAM I. GARFINKEL, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
an administrative appeal following the denial of the
plaintiff, Johnny Herrington's, application for Title XVI
supplemental security income benefits (“SSI”). It
is brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). 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. # 23]. The
Commissioner, in turn, has moved for an order affirming her
decision. [Doc. # 26]. After careful consideration of the
arguments raised by Plaintiff, and thorough review of the
administrative record, the Court affirms the
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 may 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 first ascertain
whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal principles
in reaching her conclusion, and then 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). 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)). It must be
“more than a scintilla or touch of proof here and there
in the record.” Williams, 859 F.2d at 258. 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
plaintiff's contrary position. Schauer v.
Schweiker, 675 F.2d 55, 57 (2d Cir. 1982).
filed his SSI application on December 13, 2012, alleging his
disability began on that date. His claim was denied at both
the initial and reconsideration levels. Thereafter, Plaintiff
requested a hearing. On February 4, 2014, a hearing was held
before an administrative law judge. On February 26, 2014, a
decision was issued denying Plaintiff's claim. Plaintiff
then sought review with the Appeals Council. The Appeals
Council granted Plaintiff's request for review on July
28, 2015 and remanded the matter for a subsequent hearing.
Specifically, the remand order directed the administrative
law judge to do following: (1) give further consideration to
Plaintiff's maximum residual functional capacity during
the entire period at issue and provide rationale with
specific reference to evidence of record in support of the
assessed limitations; and (2) obtain supplemental evidence
from a vocational expert to clarify the effect of the
assessed limitations on Plaintiff's occupational base and
to determine whether he has acquired any skills that are
transferable to other occupations. (R. 180-81).
Administrative Law Judge Deirdre R. Horton (the
“ALJ”) held the subsequent hearing on August 22,
2016. Plaintiff appeared with an attorney. Plaintiff and a
vocational expert (“VE”) testified at the
hearing. On October 25, 2016, the ALJ issued a partially
favorable decision: she found Plaintiff was not disabled from
December 13, 2012 through July 21, 2015, and that he became
disabled as of July 22, 2015. Plaintiff timely requested
review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council. On
January 4, 2018, the Appeals Council denied review, making
the ALJ's October 2016 decision the final determination
of the Commissioner. This action followed.
has a high school education and can communicate in English.
(R. 25). He was fifty-two years old on the date his SSI
application was filed. Plaintiff has past work experience as
a truck driver. (R. 24). Plaintiff's complete medical
history is set forth in the Joint Stipulation of Facts filed
by the parties. [Doc. # 23-2]. The Court adopts this
stipulation and incorporates it by reference herein.
The ALJ's Decision
Commissioner must follow a sequential evaluation process for
assessing disability claims. The five steps of this process
are as follows: (1) the Commissioner considers whether the
claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful
activity; (2) if not, the Commissioner considers whether the
claimant has a “severe impairment” which limits
his or her mental or physical ability to do basic work
activities; (3) if the claimant has a “severe
impairment, ” the Commissioner must ask whether, based
solely on the medical evidence, the claimant has an
impairment which “meets or equals” an impairment
listed in Appendix 1 of the regulations (the Listings). If
so, and it meets the durational requirements, the
Commissioner will consider the claimant disabled, without
considering vocational factors such as age, education, and
work experience; (4) if not, the Commissioner then asks
whether, despite the claimant's severe impairment, he or
she has the residual functional capacity to perform his or
her past work; and (5) if the claimant is unable to perform
his or her past work, the Commissioner then determines
whether there is other work in the national economy which the
claimant can perform. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(i)-(v).
The claimant bears the burden of proof on the first four
steps, while the Commissioner bears the burden of proof on
the final step. McIntyre v. Colvin, 758 F.3d 146,
149 (2d Cir. 2014).
case, at Step One, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since the SSI
application date. (R. 17). At Step Two, the ALJ found
Plaintiff's hepatitis, cirrhosis, degenerative disc
disease, and obesity are severe impairments. (Id.).
At Step Three, the ALJ concluded Plaintiff does not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that meets or
medically equals the severity of one of the listed
impairments. (Id.). Next, the ALJ determined
Plaintiff retains the following residual functional
Plaintiff can perform light work except he can frequently
climb ramps and stairs and never climb ladders, ropes, or
scaffolds. He can work in a setting free of concentrated
exposure to unprotected heights or moving machinery. He can
frequently balance and occasionally crouch, kneel, and crawl.
He can work in a setting where he is permitted to change
positions one or two times per hour to stretch for one to two
(R. 18). At Step Four, the ALJ found Plaintiff has been
unable to perform any past relevant work since the alleged
onset date. (R. 24-25). At Step Five, the ALJ relied on the
testimony of the VE to conclude that, prior to July 22, 2015,
there were jobs existing in significant numbers in the
national economy Plaintiff could perform. (R. 25).
Specifically, the VE testified that a person with
Plaintiff's vocational factors and the assessed RFC could
have performed the positions of final inspector, small
products inspector, and mail clerk. (R. 26). The ALJ also
found that, beginning on July 22, 2015, the date
Plaintiff's age category changed to an individual of
advanced age, a finding of disabled is reached by direct
application of Medical-Vocational Rule 202.06.
(Id.). Accordingly, the ALJ found Plaintiff to be
disabled as of July 22, 2015, but not before.
appeal, Plaintiff avers that the ALJ should have found him
disabled as of his alleged onset date, December 13, 2012. In
support of this position, Plaintiff argues (1) the ALJ erred
in weighing the medical opinion evidence; (2) the ALJ erred
in assessing his credibility; and (3) the ALJ failed to
consider the ...