United States District Court, D. Connecticut
LAURIE A. CHMIELEWSKI, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
RULING ON PENDING MOTIONS
WILLIAM I. GARFINKEL UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Laurie A. Chmielewski has filed this appeal following the
denial of her 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 remanding the matter for rehearing. [Doc.
# 22]. The Commissioner has responded with a motion to affirm
her decision. [Doc. # 23]. After careful consideration of the
arguments raised by the parties, and thorough review of the
administrative record, the Court reverses the decision of the
Commissioner and remands the matter for additional
proceedings consistent with this Ruling.
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 her SSI application on April 9, 2014, alleging
disability onset date of October 18, 2012. Her claim was
denied initially and upon reconsideration. Plaintiff then
requested a hearing. A hearing was held before Administrative
Law Judge Eskunder Boyd (the “ALJ”) on September
13, 2016. Plaintiff, who was not represented by counsel at
the hearing, provided testimony. A vocational expert also
testified. On November 1, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision
denying Plaintiff's claim. Plaintiff timely sought review
of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council. On November
1, 2017, the Appeals Council denied review, making the
ALJ's decision the final determination of the
Commissioner. This action followed.
was forty-six years of age on the alleged disability onset
date. She has a high school education and has no past
relevant work experience. Plaintiff's complete medical
history is set forth in the Joint Stipulation of Facts filed
by the parties. [Doc. # 22-1]. 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 April 9, 2014,
the application date. (R. 19). At Step Two, the ALJ found
Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: plantar
fasciitis; obesity; rotator cuff tear; and anxiety disorder.
(R. 18-19.). At Step Three, the ALJ found that these
impairments, alone or in combination, do not meet or equal
the severity of one of the listed impairments. (R. 19). The
ALJ then found that Plaintiff retains the following residual
Plaintiff can perform light work except she is able to stand
and/or walk two to four hours and sit for six hours; she
requires a sit/stand option defined as sitting for 30
minutes, alternate to standing position for three minutes,
and then resume sitting. She may never climb ladders, ropes,
scaffolds, or stairs but may occasionally climb ramps, and
may occasionally balance, stoop and crouch with no ability to
kneel or crawl. She may frequently handle and finger, but can
perform no overhead reaching with the right upper extremity.
She should not work with exposure to temperature extremes.
She is able to perform simple, routine, repetitive tasks and
is able to sustain concentration, persistence, or pace for
two-hour segments with brief and superficial interaction with
coworkers and no interaction with the public.
(R. 21). At Step Four, the ALJ found Plaintiff has no past
relevant work. (R. 26). Finally, at Step Five, the ALJ relied
on the testimony of the vocational expert to conclude that
there are jobs in significant numbers in the national economy
Plaintiff can perform. (R. 26). Accordingly, the ALJ found
Plaintiff to be not disabled.
Plaintiff arrived for the September 13, 2016 hearing, she was
unaccompanied by an attorney. The ALJ acknowledged Plaintiff
was unrepresented, and the following dialogue occurred:
ALJ: Now before we go forward, Ms.
Chmielewski, I do have to note for the record that you do you
not have a ...