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 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 Social Security Disability Insurance
about August 4, 2009, the plaintiff filed an application for
SSDI benefits claiming that she has been disabled since
January 1, 2000, due to bipolar disorder and major depressive
disorder. (Certified Transcript of Administrative
Proceedings, dated December 13, 2017 [“Tr.”]
57-61, 63-69, 119-125). The Commissioner denied the
plaintiff's application initially and upon
reconsideration. (Tr. 57-61, 63-69). On March 26, 2010, the
plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law
Judge [“ALJ”]. (Tr. 81-82). On March 18, 2011, a
hearing was held before ALJ Ronald Thomas, at which the
plaintiff testified. (Tr. 30-56; see Tr. 11-29,
90-111). On April 20, 2011, the ALJ issued an unfavorable
decision denying the plaintiff's claim for benefits. (Tr.
11-29). On July 31, 2011, the plaintiff requested review of
the hearing decision (Tr. 623-25), and on August 24, 2011,
the Appeals Council denied the plaintiff's request for
review, thereby rendering the ALJ's decision the final
decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-6).
plaintiff appealed to the district court from the ALJ's
April 20, 2011 unfavorable decision on September 19, 2011.
See Walls v. Astrue, No. 3:11-CV-1452 (VLB)(TPS),
Doc. No. 1. On May 3, 2012, the Commissioner filed a Consent
Motion Under Sentence Four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) with
Reversal and Remand of the Cause to the Defendant, stating
that “further development of the record and additional
administrative action is warranted.” Walls,
3:11-CV-1452 (VLB)(TPS), Doc. No. 15-1 at 1. The Court
granted the Consent Motion on the same day. Walls,
3:11-CV-1452 (VLB)(TPS), Doc. No. 16.
the Court's remand, the Appeals Council issued an order
on October 21, 2013, remanding the case to the ALJ. (Tr.
550-53). A second hearing was held before ALJ Thomas on
August 12, 2014 (Tr. 445-73), who issued a second unfavorable
decision on September 25, 2014. (Tr. 554-74). The Appeals
Council reviewed the ALJ's second decision and, on August
2, 2016, remanded the case again to the ALJ, reasoning that
the ALJ's September 2014 decision did not comply with its
October 21, 2013 remand order. (Tr. 578). The Appeals Council
instructed that the case be assigned to a different ALJ. (Tr.
hearing was held before ALJ Matthew Kuperstein on January 19,
2017, at which the plaintiff, a medical expert, and a
vocational expert testified. (Tr. 474-517; see Tr.
427). ALJ Kuperstein subsequently became “unavailable
to issue a decision” and, therefore, ALJ Barry Best was
assigned to issue a decision. (Tr. 427 (citing HALLEX
I-2-8-40)). On May 31, 2017, ALJ Best issued an unfavorable
decision, again denying the plaintiff's claim for SSDI
benefits. (Tr. 424-44).
plaintiff filed her complaint in this pending action on
October 3, 2017. (Doc. No. 1). On October 5, 2017, the
parties consented to the jurisdiction of a United States
Magistrate Judge (Doc. Nos. 10 & 11), and on October 6,
2017, the case was reassigned to United States Magistrate
Judge Joan G. Margolis. (Doc. No. 12). The defendant filed
her answer and certified administrative transcript on January
11, 2018. (Doc. No. 16). The case was then transferred to
this Magistrate Judge on May 1, 2018. (Tr. 22). On August 24,
2018, following six motions for extension of time, the
plaintiff filed her Motion to Reverse the Decision of the
Commissioner (Doc. No. 31), with brief in support (Doc. No.
31-1 [Pl.'s Mem.]), and a stipulation of facts (Doc. No.
31-2). On September 26, 2018, the defendant filed her Motion
to Affirm the Decision of the Commissioner (Doc. No. 32),
with brief in support. (Doc. No. 32-2 [Def.'s Mem.]).
reasons stated below, the plaintiff's Motion to Reverse
the Decision of the Commissioner (Doc. No. 31) is GRANTED,
and the defendant's Motion to Affirm (Doc. No. 32) is
Court presumes the parties' familiarity with the
plaintiff's medical history, which is thoroughly
discussed in the Joint Stipulation of Facts (Doc. No. 31-2).
The Court cites only the portions of the record that are
necessary to explain this ruling.
THE ALJ'S DECISION
the five-step evaluation process,  the ALJ found that the
plaintiff's date last insured was September 30, 2000, and
that the plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since the alleged onset date of January 1, 2000,
through her date last insured. (Tr. 430, citing 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1571 et seq.). The ALJ concluded that, as
of the date last insured, the plaintiff had the following
medically determinable impairments: borderline personality
disorder; bipolar disorder; anxiety disorder; depressive
disorder; and obsessive-compulsive disorder. (Tr. 430, citing
20 C.F.R. § 404.1521 et seq.). The ALJ,
however, concluded that “the [plaintiff] did not have
an impairment or combination of impairments that
significantly limited the ability to perform basic
work-related activities for 12 consecutive months; therefore,
the [plaintiff] did not have a severe impairment or
combination of impairments.” (Tr. 430, citing 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1521 et seq.). Because the ALJ determined
that the plaintiff's medically determinable impairments
were “nonsevere, ” he concluded that the
plaintiff was not disabled at any time from the alleged onset
date of January 1, 2000, through the date last insured of
September 30, 2000. (Tr. 435, citing 20 C.F.R. §