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Garzon v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

May 20, 2019

ANNA L. GARZON, Plaintiff,


          Jeffrey Alker Meyer United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Anna Garzon asserts that she is disabled and unable to work due to several conditions. She filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking review of a final decision of defendant Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, who denied Garzon's application for disability benefits. Garzon has filed a motion to reverse the Commissioner's decision (Doc. #22), and the Commissioner has filed a motion to affirm the Commissioner's decision (Doc. #24) For the reasons set forth below, I will grant the motion to remand and deny the motion to affirm the decision of the Commissioner.


          I refer to the transcripts the Commissioner provided. See Doc. #21-1 through Doc. #21-16. Garzon filed an application for social security disability income on March 24, 2016, alleging a disability beginning on February 2, 2016. Doc. #21-7 at 3-4. Garzon's claim was initially denied on July 6, 2016, Doc. #21-8 at 3, and denied again upon reconsideration on August 17, 2016, id. at 9. She then filed a request for a hearing on September 6, 2016. Id. at 12.

         Garzon appeared and testified at a hearing in New Haven before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Eskunder Boyd on September 1, 2017. Doc. #21-6 at 44. Garzon was not represented by counsel. Id. at 46. On December 18, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision concluding that Garzon was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. See Doc. #21-2 at 36. The Appeals Council denied Garzon's request for review on March 28, 2018. Id. at 2. Garzon then filed this case on May 10, 2018. Doc. #1.

         To qualify as disabled, a claimant must show that she is unable “to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which . . . has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months, ” and “the impairment must be ‘of such severity that [the claimant] is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy.'” Robinson v. Concentra Health Servs., Inc., 781 F.3d 42, 45 (2d Cir. 2015) (quoting 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), 423(d)(2)(A)). “[W]ork exists in the national economy when it exists in significant numbers either in the region where [a claimant] live[s] or in several other regions of the country, ” and “when there is a significant number of jobs (in one or more occupations) having requirements which [a claimant] [is] able to meet with his physical or mental abilities and vocational qualifications.” 20 C.F.R. § 416.966(a)-(b); see also Kennedy v. Astrue, 343 Fed.Appx. 719, 722 (2d Cir. 2009).

         To evaluate a claimant's disability, and to determine whether he qualifies for benefits, the agency engages in the following five-step process:

First, the Commissioner considers whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity. Where the claimant is not, the Commissioner next considers whether the claimant has a “severe impairment” that significantly limits her 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 that is listed [in the so-called “Listings”] ¶ 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1. If the claimant has a listed impairment, the Commissioner will consider the claimant disabled without considering vocational factors such as age, education, and work experience; the Commissioner presumes that a claimant who is afflicted with a listed impairment is unable to perform substantial gainful activity. Assuming the claimant does not have a listed impairment, the fourth inquiry is whether, despite the claimant's severe impairment, she has the residual functional capacity to perform her past work. Finally, if the claimant is unable to perform her past work, the burden then shifts to the Commissioner to determine whether there is other work which the claimant could perform.

Cage v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 692 F.3d 118, 122-23 (2d Cir. 2012) (alteration in original) (citation omitted); see also20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(i)-(v). In applying this framework, an ALJ may find a claimant to be disabled or not disabled at a particular step and may make a decision without proceeding to the next step. See20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4). The claimant bears the burden of proving the case at Steps One through Four; at Step Five, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to demonstrate that there is other work that the claimant can perform. See McIntyre v. Colvin, 758 F.3d 146, 150 (2d Cir. 2014).

         The ALJ concluded that Garzon was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. At Step One, the ALJ concluded that Garzon met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2021, and that she had engaged in substantial gainful activity from January of 2016 to February 1, 2017-a time period that extended past the date of her alleged onset of disability. Doc. #21-2 at 29. Because there was a time period after February 1, 2017, when Garzon had not engaged in substantial gainful activity, the ALJ continued his analysis as to that period. Ibid.

         At Step Two, the ALJ found that Garzon experienced the following severe impairments: “Status Post Bilateral Knee Arthroplasty; Fibromyalgia (FM); Obesity; and Depressive Disorder.” Ibid. The ALJ did not take note of any non-severe impairments. Ibid.

         At Step Three, the ALJ determined that Garzon did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Ibid.

         The ALJ then found that Garzon “had the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b) except she is able to stand and/or walk up to four hours and sit for six hours and she requires a sit/stand option defined as sitting for 30 minutes, alternate to the standing position for five minutes and then resume sitting. She is unable to climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds but may occasionally climb stairs and ramps, balance, stoop, and crouch, but never kneel or crawl. She is able to frequently handle and finger. There should be no work with exposure to temperature extremes. The claimant is able to perform simple and detailed, but not complex tasks and she is able to sustain concentration, persistence, or pace for three to four hour segments with frequent interaction with coworkers and the public.” Id. at 31-32. At Step Four, the ALJ concluded that ...

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