United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RULING ON PENDING MOTIONS
WILLIAM I. GARFINKEL UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
an administrative appeal following the denial of Plaintiff,
Elena Perez Garcia's, 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, an order
remanding her case for a rehearing. [Doc. # 18]. The
Commissioner, in turn, has moved for an order affirming her
decision. [Doc. # 19]. For the reasons set forth below,
Plaintiff's motion is granted and the Commissioner's
motion is denied.
filed her SSI application on November 20, 2014. Her claim was
denied at both the initial and reconsideration levels.
Plaintiff then requested a hearing. On December 22, 2016, a
hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge Ellen Parker
Bush (the “ALJ”). Plaintiff, who was represented
by counsel, and a vocational expert (“VE”)
testified at the hearing. On May 30, 2017, the ALJ issued a
decision denying Plaintiff's claim. Plaintiff timely
requested review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals
Council. On May 30, 2018, the Appeals Council denied review,
making the ALJ's decision the final determination of the
Commissioner. This action followed.
has alleged disability based primarily on the conditions of
diabetic neuropathy and degenerative disc disease. She was
forty-six years old on the date of the hearing. She has an
associate degree and past work experience as an accounting
assistant. Plaintiff's complete medical history is set
forth in the Joint Stipulation of Facts filed by the parties.
[Doc. ## 18-1, 19-2]. 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 the SSI
application date. (R. 23). At Step Two, the ALJ found the
following severe impairments: diabetes; peripheral
neuropathy; left-sided carpal tunnel syndrome, status post
right-sided carpal tunnel release; and degenerative disc
disease of the lumbar spine. (Id.). At this second
step, the ALJ also discussed Plaintiff's obesity, and
concluded that there is no evidence it impacted her ability
to perform basic work activities. (R. 23-24). At Step Three,
the ALJ found Plaintiff's severe impairments, alone or in
combination, do not meet or medically equal the severity of
one of the listed impairments. (R. 24). Next, the ALJ
determined Plaintiff retains the following residual
Plaintiff can perform light work with the following
limitations: she can occasionally climb ramps, stairs,
ladders, ropes, and scaffolds. She can occasionally stoop,
crouch, and crawl. She can frequently balance and
crouch.She should avoid concentrated exposure to
respiratory irritants and hazards.
formulating this RFC, the ALJ considered three medical
opinions. First, Dr. Colb, a State Agency Medical Consultant,
reviewed the record and provided an opinion dated November
20, 2015. He opined that Plaintiff could occasionally lift
and carry twenty pounds and frequently lift and carry ten
pounds, and could sit, stand, and walk for six hours in an
eight-hour workday. (R. 96). He found Plaintiff had limited
ability to push and pull with the left upper extremity.
(Id.). Dr. Colb stated Plaintiff could occasionally
climb ramps, stairs, ladders, ropes, and scaffolds;
occasionally stoop, crouch, and crawl; and frequently balance
and kneel. (R. 97). Dr. Colb concluded that Plaintiff could
think, communicate, care for her own needs, and perform usual
daily activities. (R. 99). He noted that although Plaintiff
may experience pain and discomfort, she can “move about
… in a satisfactory manner.” (Id.). The
ALJ gave Dr. Colb's opinion partial weight. (R. 28).
Dr. Dodenhoff provided an opinion dated June 3, 2016 based on
his consultative examination of Plaintiff. He noted that
Plaintiff's pain medications “let her
function” to perform activities of daily living. (R.
820). He opined she can sit, stand, walk, lift, carry, and
handle objects. (R. 821). In addition, Dr. Dodenhoff stated
Plaintiff's hearing and speaking are intact, and she can
understand, remember, and carry out instructions.
(Id.). He found she should be able to respond
appropriately to supervision, coworkers, and the pressures in
a work setting. (Id.). The ALJ gave Dr.
Dodenhoff's opinion great weight. (R. 28).
Dr. Borgonos, Plaintiff's treating physician, completed a
medical source statement in December 2016. He noted that he
has seen Plaintiff every three months for two years. (R.
815). He listed her diagnoses as diabetes, diabetic
neuropathy, hypothyroidism, depression, and GERD.
(Id.). He assessed a fair prognosis. (Id.).
Plaintiff's symptoms were identified as chronic pain,
specifically “moderate pain that is constant mostly
involving her legs, ” and back pain from degenerative
disease. (Id.). Dr. Borgonos found Plaintiff could
walk three city blocks without rest or pain, could sit for
more than two hours at a time, and could stand for thirty
minutes at a time. (R. 816). He stated that, in an eight-hour
workday, Plaintiff could sit for four hours total, and
stand/walk for less than two hours total. (Id.). He
opined she could frequently lift and carry ten pounds; could
occasionally lift ...