United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RULING AND ORDER
F. MARTINEZ UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
plaintiff, Robert Vozzella, seeks judicial review pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of a final decision by the
Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner")
denying his application for disability insurance benefits.
The plaintiff moves to reverse the Commissioner's
decision or, alternatively, remand for a rehearing. (Doc.
#35.) The Commissioner, in turn, moves to affirm the
decision. (Doc. #38.) For the reasons set forth below, the
plaintiff's motion is granted and the defendant's
motion is denied.
April 2015, the plaintiff applied for disability insurance
benefits alleging that he was disabled as of September 27,
2013. His application was denied initially and upon
reconsideration. He requested a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). On April 17,
2017, the plaintiff, represented by counsel, testified at the
hearing. A vocational expert also testified. On August 29,
2017, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. (R. at 27.) On
January 26, 2018, the Appeals Counsel denied review, making
the ALJ's decision final. This action followed. On
November 5, 2018, the plaintiff filed a motion for reversal
or remand and on December 31, 2018, the defendant filed a
motion to affirm.
Standard of Review
court's review of the ALJ's decision is limited.
"It is not [the court's] function to determine de
novo whether [the plaintiff] is disabled." Pratts v.
Chater, 94 F.3d 34, 37 (2d Cir. 1996). The court may
reverse an ALJ's finding that a plaintiff is not disabled
only if the ALJ applied the incorrect legal standards or if
the decision is not supported by substantial evidence.
Brault v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 683 F.3d 443, 447 (2d
Cir. 2012). "Substantial evidence is more than a mere
scintilla. . . . It means such relevant evidence as a
reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion." Brault, 683 F.3d at 447 (quotation
marks and citations omitted).
Commissioner of Social Security uses the following five-step
procedure to evaluate disability claims:
First, the [Commissioner] considers whether the claimant is
currently engaged in substantial gainful activity. If he is
not, the [Commissioner] next considers whether the claimant
has a "severe impairment" which significantly
limits his 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 which is listed in Appendix 1
of the regulations. If the claimant has such an impairment,
the [Commissioner] will consider him disabled without
considering vocational factors such as age, education, and
work experience.... Assuming the claimant does not have a
listed impairment, the fourth inquiry is whether, despite the
claimant's severe impairment, he has the residual
functional capacity to perform his past work. Finally, if the
claimant is unable to perform his past work, the
[Commissioner] then determines whether there is other work
which the claimant could perform.
Rosa v. Callahan, 168 F.3d 72, 77 (2d Cir. 1999)
(internal alterations and citation omitted).
the five step evaluation process, the ALJ first found that
the plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
from his alleged onset date of September 27, 2013 through his
date last insured. (R. at 16.) At step two, the ALJ
determined that the plaintiff had severe impairments of
"lumbar spine impairment, degenerative disc disease,
left upper extremity disorders, carpal tunnel syndrome,
forearm nerve damage tricep tears, tendinitis (both elbows),
bilateral hip pain, right knee disorder (partial torn ACL),
plantar fasciitis (left foot), depression and anxiety."
(R. at 16.) At step three, the ALJ found that the
plaintiff's impairments, either alone or in combination,
did not meet or medically equal the severity of a listed
impairment in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. (R.
at 16.) The ALJ next determined that the plaintiff had the
residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform
sedentary work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(a)
with the following limitations:
he could occasionally stoop, crouch, crawl and kneel;
occasionally climb ramps and stairs, but could not climb
ladders, rope or scaffolds. The claimant could do frequent
reaching in all directions, and frequent handling with the
left nondominant upper extremity. He could not do production
rate or pace work (i.e., assembly line work, working in close
tandem with co-workers at an outwardly directed pace) but
could do individual table/bench work. The ...