United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RULING RE: MOTION FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS (DOC.
NO. 25) & MOTION TO AFFIRM THE DECISION OF THE
COMMISSIONER (DOC. NO. 27)
C. HALL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
David Paul Sudac (“Sudac”) brings this appeal
under section 405(g) of title 42 of the United States Code
from the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social
Security Administration (“SSA”), which denied his
application for Title II disability insurance benefits and
Title XVI supplemental security income. See
Complaint (“Compl.”) (Doc. No. 1). Sudac filed a
Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (Doc. No. 25), seeking
vacatur and reversal of the Decision rendered by
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Martha Bower,
which affirmed the Commissioner's denial. See
Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (“Mot. to
Reverse”) (Doc. No. 17). The Commissioner moves for an
order affirming the ALJ's Decision. See Mot. for
Order Affirming the Decision of the Comm'r (“Mot.
to Affirm”) (Doc. No. 18).
reasons set forth below, the Motion for Judgment on the
Pleadings is granted and the Motion to Affirm the Decision of
the Commissioner is denied.
applied for disability income benefits on December 11, 2014,
and applied for supplemental security income benefits
December 23, 2014, alleging a disability onset date of March
23, 2013. See R. at 19. The Commissioner denied
Sudac's application initially on April 20, 2015, and upon
reconsideration on October 5, 2015. Id. Sudac
requested a hearing with an ALJ, which was held by video
before ALJ Bower on December 30, 2016. Id.
February 24, 2017, ALJ Bower issued an unfavorable decision
for Sudac, affirming the Commissioner's denial and
finding that Sudac was not disabled. See id. at 35.
Specifically, the ALJ found that Sudac's impairments did
not meet or equal any listing, see id. at 25, and
that with his level of residual functional capacity
(“RFC”), there were jobs in the national economy
that he could perform, see id. at 34-35. The Appeals
Council denied Sudac's request for review on January 9,
2018. Id. at 1. Following that denial, ALJ
Bower's February 24, 2017 Decision became a final
decision reviewable by this court. See id. at 2.
Sudac filed this appeal on March 8, 2018. See
Complaint (Doc. No. 1).
the parties did not file a joint stipulation of facts, many
of the facts are undisputed. Compare Summary of
Facts in Support of Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings
(Doc. No. 25-2) (“Sudac SOF”) with
Response to Plaintiff's Statement of Facts (Doc. No.
27-2) (“Comm'r SOF”). The court adopts the
parties' Statements of Fact to the extent the facts are
agreed upon, and it will therefore only briefly describe the
facts relevant to this Ruling.
was born on August 17, 1990, and was 26 years old at the time
of his hearing on December 30, 2016. See R. at
In January 2009, Sudac was brought to an emergency room after
throwing objects in his house and driving erratically. Sudac
SOF ¶ 14. Sudac reported becoming “very
angry” after receiving a negative result from a
colonoscopy, related to chronic abdominal pain and
“bowel disregulation” over the previous year.
Id. ¶ 15. Sudac also reported feelings of
depression associated with his chronic abdominal problems.
Id. ¶ 16.
on March 26, 2013, Sudac was seen at the Branford Counseling
Center for reports of severe anxiety and panic attacks.
Id. ¶¶ 17-19. Sudac reported he had been
prescribed a medication to assist with his anxiety but had
stopped taking the medicine due to sexual side-effects.
Id. ¶ 20. At various times during his
treatment, Sudac reported regular marijuana use as a form of
self-medication. See, e.g., id.
¶¶ 26, 37. Dr. Tracy Robinson, Psy.D evaluated
Sudac, and reported that he exhibited “obsessional
worrying, ” admitted to having suicidal thoughts
(without intent or plan), and that Sudac reported a desire to
be free of his physical IBS symptoms and to “get back
to normal” emotionally. Id. ¶¶
23-25. Dr. Robinson diagnosed Sudac with major depressive
disorder, cannabis dependence, OCD, and IBS. Id.
4, 2013, Sudac was admitted to Natchaug Hospital, where he
reported depression, severe IBS with diarrhea, and related
anxiety and obsessive behavior. Id. ¶¶
29-30. Sudac stated that he was fearful of using public
restrooms and was transferred to Silver Hill Hospital after
four days due to his inability to use the restroom at
Natchaug Hospital. Id. ¶¶ 38-39.
was admitted to Silver Hill Hospital on July 8, 2013.
See Sudac SOF ¶ 39; Comm'r SOF ¶
Sudac reiterated many of the same complaints, including
anxiety, IBS, inability to urinate in public places,
depression, and suicidal ideation. Id. ¶¶
41-44. When discharged from Silver Hill Hospital, Sudac was
still anxious but “much less irritable, ” his
condition was stable, and his prognosis was good. Comm'r
SOF ¶ 46.
attended an intensive outpatient treatment program at
Hartford Healthcare from February 4, 2014 to April 14, 2014.
Sudac SOF ¶ 47. He was thereafter treated at the Anxiety
Disorders Center of the Harford Hospital, Institute of
Living. Id. ¶ 52. Sudac again reported anxiety,
obsessive behavior, compulsions, and a fear of public
urination. Id. ¶¶ 53-59. Starting in June
2014 and continuing through January 2016, Sudac was treated
by Dr. Hannan at the Anxiety Disorders Center. Id.
¶¶ 63, 76. As part of his treatment, Sudac was
encouraged to engage in exposure exercises, where he would
attempt to travel to and use public restrooms. Id.
¶ 65. These exercises were successful to the extent that
Sudac was able to use public restrooms to some degree, though
some progress was lost towards the end of treatment.
Comm'r SOF ¶ 76.
least February 2013 onwards, Sudac reported difficulty
evacuating his bowels. Sudac SOF ¶ 80. He reported that
he spent long periods, especially in the morning, attempting
to empty his bowels, feeling only partial evacuation, and
needing to return to a restroom again shortly thereafter.
Id. ¶ 86. Colonoscopies revealed internal and
external hemorrhoids, which was treated through surgical
procedures. Id. ¶ 84. The treating
gastroenterologist, Dr. Aversa, diagnosed an “obvious
obstructed defecation syndrome.” Id. ¶
87. Sudac was also treated by Dr. Bogardus, who noted that
Sudac's primary complaint was related to variable bowel
movements. Id. ¶ 95. Sudac did not exhibit
acute pain, though he did report gassiness and bloating; Dr.
Bogardus noted that Sudac's symptoms were consistent with
IBS. Id. ¶¶ 95-98.
agency psychological consultants Dr. Kelly Rogers and Dr. Jon
Perlman concluded, based on a Psychiatric Review Technique,
that Sudac had mild restrictions of daily activities and
moderate limitations in social functioning, but that his
conditions did not preclude work. Comm'r SOF at 5, 6.
Based on a review of records, Dr. Quinlan, a state agency
medical consultant, concluded that Sudac suffered from IBS,
paruresis, and anxiety disorder, but that the IBS and
paruresis were not severe. Id. at 6. Dr. Gurcharan
Singh, a state agency medical consultant, affirmed Dr.
Quinlan's conclusions. Id. at 6.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
section 405(g) of title 42 of the United States Code, it is
not a function of the district court to review de
novo the ALJ's decision as to whether the claimant
was disabled. See Schaal v. Apfel, 134 F.3d 496, 501
(2d Cir. 1998). Instead, the court may only set aside an
ALJ's determination as to social security disability if
the decision “is based upon legal error or is not
supported by substantial evidence.” Balsamo v.
Chater, 142 F.3d 75, 79 (2d Cir. 1998). Substantial
evidence requires “more than a mere scintilla, ”
but is a “very deferential standard of review.”
Brault v. Soc. Sec. Admin., Comm'r, 683 F.3d
443, 447-48 (2d Cir. 2012). It requires “such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.” Id. at 448. If the
Commissioner's findings of fact are supported by
substantial evidence, those findings are conclusive, and the
court will not substitute its judgment for the
Commissioner's. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2016); see
also Yancey v. Apfel, 145 F.3d 106, 111 (2d Cir. 1998).
argues that ALJ Bower's decision should be reversed or
remanded for three reasons. First, he argues that ALJ Bower
erred in concluding that Sudac's irritable bowel syndrome
(“IBS”), obsessive compulsive disorder
(“OCD”), and paruresis (commonly known as
“shy bladder”) did not constitute severe
conditions within the meaning of the applicable regulations.
See Sudac Mem. in Supp. (Doc. No. 25-1) at 10.
Second, Sudac argues that the ALJ committed legal error in
her application of the treating physician rule as to all of
the opinions provided by ...