Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Jordan v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

March 29, 2019

BERNANDINE JORDAN, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OF DECISION RE: PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO REVERSE OR REMAND (ECF NO. 20) AND DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO AFFIRM (ECF NO. 28)

          KARI A. DOOLEY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Preliminary Statement

         The Plaintiff, Bernadine Jordan, brings this appeal pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §405(g). She appeals the Defendant Commissioner's decision denying her disabled widow's benefits (“DWB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) payments under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (hereinafter “the Act”), based upon a finding that she is not “disabled” under the Act. She seeks an order of this Court reversing the Commissioner's decision on the grounds that the Commission erred as a matter of law and that the Commissioner's findings are not supported by substantial evidence in the record. Alternatively, she seeks a remand to the Commissioner for further proceedings. The Commissioner, on the other hand, avers that the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record and were made using the correct legal standards. She asks this Court to affirm the decision.

         For the reasons set forth below, the Plaintiff's motion is GRANTED insofar as the case is remanded for rehearing pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The Defendant Commissioner's motion is DENIED.

         Standard of Review

         The Plaintiff sought a determination that she was disabled as of June 28, 2011, the purported date of onset, through the date of the hearing on her application. A person is “disabled” under the Act if that person is unable to “engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(a). A physical or mental impairment is one that “results from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which are demonstrable by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques.” 42 U.S.C. §423(d)(3). In addition, a claimant must establish that his “physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that [she] is not only unable to do [her] previous work but cannot, considering [her] age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy ….” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A).

         The Commissioner has established a five-step sequential analysis to which an ALJ must adhere when evaluating disability claims. See 20 C.F.R. 404.1520. In brief, the five steps are as follows: (1) the Commissioner determines whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) if not, the Commissioner determines whether the claimant has a “severe impairment” which limits his or her mental or physical ability to do basic work activities; (3) if such a “severe impairment” is established, the Commissioner next determines whether the medical evidence establishes that the claimant's impairment “meets or equals” an impairment listed in Appendix 1 of the regulations; (4) if the claimant does not establish the “meets or equals” requirement, the Commissioner must then determine the claimant's residual functional capacity (hereinafter “RFC”) to perform his or her past work; and (5) if the claimant is unable to perform his or her past work, the Commissioner must next determine whether there is other work in the national economy which the claimant can perform. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v). The claimant bears the burden of proof with respect to steps one through four. See Burgess v. Astrue, 537 F.3d 117, 128 (2d Cir. 2008). The Commissioner bears the burden as to step five, that is, finding the existence of work in the national economy that the claimant is capable of performing. McIntyre v. Colvin, 758 F.3d 146, 150 (2d Cir. 2014).

         The fourth sentence of Section 405(g) of the Act provides that a “[c]ourt shall have power to enter, upon the pleadings and transcript of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner..., with or without remanding the case for a rehearing.” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). It is well-settled that the district court will reverse an ALJ's decision only when it is based upon legal error or when it is not supported by substantial evidence in the record. See Beauvoir v. Chater, 104 F.3d 1432, 1433 (2d Cir. 1997); see also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (“The findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive . . .”). “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.” Talavera v. Astrue, 697 F.3d 145, 151 (2d Cir. 2012) (internal quotations omitted). The Court does not inquire as to whether the record might also support the Plaintiff's claims, but only whether there is substantial evidence to support the Commissioner's decision. See Selian v. Astrue, 708 F.3d 409, 417 (2d Cir. 2013) (“If there is substantial evidence to support the [agency's] determination, it must be upheld”).

         However, before the Court undertakes such analysis, it “must first be satisfied that the claimant has had a full hearing under the regulations and in accordance with the beneficent purposes of the Social Security Act.'” Cruz v. Barnhart, 343 F.Supp.2d 218, 220 (S.D.N.Y. 2004) (quoting Cruz v. Sullivan, 912 F.2d 8, 11 (2d Cir. 1990). “Because a hearing on disability benefits is a non-adversarial proceeding, the ALJ generally has an affirmative obligation to develop the administrative record.” Perez v. Chater, 77 F.3d 41, 47 (2d Cir. 1996) (internal citations omitted); see also Lamay v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 562 F.3d 503, 508-09 (2d Cir. 2009) (“[S]ocial security hearings are not (or at least are not meant to be) adversarial in nature.”). “It is the Commissioner's affirmative responsibility to develop the record in such a way as to ensure a full and fair hearing.” Cruz v. Barnhart, 343 F.Supp.2d 218, 220 (S.D.N.Y. 2004). “When a record is incomplete, a decision based thereon is not supported by substantial evidence.” Beutel v. Berryhill, No. 3:17CV01193(SALM), 2018 WL 3218662, at *10 (D. Conn. July 2, 2018) (citing Pratts v. Chater, 94 F.3d 34, 38 (2d Cir. 1996)).

         Indeed, the law is clear that “where the administrative record contains gaps, remand to the Commissioner for further development of the evidence is appropriate. And when ‘further findings would so plainly help to assure the proper disposition of [the] claim, … remand is particularly appropriate.'” Butts v. Barnhart, 388 F.3d 377, 385 (2d Cir. 2004), as amended on reh'g in part, 416 F.3d 101 (2d Cir. 2005) (quoting Rosa v. Callahan, 168 F.3d 72, 83 (2d Cir. 1999)). Remand is also appropriate where the Court is “‘unable to fathom the ALJ's rationale in relation to the evidence in the record' without ‘further findings or clearer explanation for the decision.'” Pratts, 94 F.3d at 39 (quoting Berry v. Schweiker, 675 F.2d 464, 469 (2d Cir. 1982).

         The ALJ's Decision

         At step one, the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff had not been engaged in substantial gainful activity since the claimed onset date, June 28, 2011. At step two, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff had severe impairments, specifically, anxiety, depression, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, and alcohol, cocaine, and marijuana abuse. The ALJ rejected the claim that the Plaintiff's borderline intellectual functioning was severe. At step three, the ALJ found that the Plaintiff did not establish an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of the listed impairments in the regulations at 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. At step four, the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff had an RFC to perform “light work” as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(c) and 416.967(c). The ALJ placed limitations on this determination, however, finding that the Plaintiff was limited to, inter alia, frequent climbing of ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; frequent kneeling, crouching, and crawling; simple, routine, and repetitive tasks; only occasional contact with coworkers; and no contact with the public. The ALJ determined that the Plaintiff had no past relevant work. At step five, crediting the testimony of the vocational expert, the ALJ determined that there are a significant number of jobs in the national economy that the Plaintiff could perform even with the limitations identified above. The ALJ therefore concluded that the Plaintiff was not disabled as of June 28, 2011, or at any time thereafter through the date of the hearing.

         Discussion

         Although the ALJ's decision articulated his reasons and the relevant portion of the record on which he relied in reaching his decision, upon review, the Court finds that the record upon which his decision was based is incomplete and inadequate, and the matter must be remanded for the purpose of further developing the record. In short, the Court is not satisfied that the Plaintiff received a full and fair hearing. See Rose v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 202 F.Supp.3d 231, 239 (“A remand by the court for further proceedings is appropriate ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.