United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RULING ON PENDING MOTIONS
WILLIAM I. GARFINKEL UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
an administrative appeal following the denial of the
plaintiff, Gina Castro's, application for Title II
disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and 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. # 16]. The Commissioner, in turn, has moved for an
order affirming her decision. [Doc. # 18]. This case was a
close call; in the final analysis, however, after careful
consideration of the arguments raised by both parties, and
thorough review of the administrative record, the Court
reverses the decision of the Commissioner and remands the
matter for additional proceedings.
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 DIB and SSI applications on October 10, 2013,
alleging a disability onset date of November 5, 2012. Her
claims were denied at both the initial and reconsideration
levels. Thereafter, Plaintiff requested a hearing. On January
6, 2016, a hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge
Ronald J. Thomas (“the ALJ”). Plaintiff, who
appeared pro se, and a vocational expert
(“VE”) provided testimony at the hearing. On June
17, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff's
claims. Plaintiff timely requested review of the ALJ's
decision by the Appeals Council. On July 23, 2018, the
Appeals Council denied review, making the ALJ's decision
the final determination of the Commissioner. This action
completed through the tenth grade in school. (R. 57). She
cannot communicate in English. (R. 54). She was forty-seven
years old on the date of the hearing before the ALJ. (R. 56).
Plaintiff last worked in February 2013 as a machine operator.
(R. 58). She has additional past work experience as a welding
machine feeder, assembler, and daycare worker. (R. 73).
Plaintiff's complete medical history is set forth in the
Joint Stipulation of Facts filed by the parties. [Doc. #
16-2]. 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. See 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520; 416.920. 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).
at Step One, the ALJ found Plaintiff has not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date.
(R. 36). At Step Two, the ALJ found Plaintiff has the
following severe impairments: fibromyalgia and depression.
(Id.). The ALJ determined that diabetes, carpal
tunnel syndrome, and rheumatoid arthritis are nonsevere
impairments. (R. 36-37). At Step Three, the ALJ found
Plaintiff does not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of
one of the listed impairments. (R. 37). Next, the ALJ
determined Plaintiff retains the following residual
Plaintiff can perform light work except she can occasionally
twist, kneel, crawl, bend, squat, balance, and climb. She can
occasionally interact with co-workers, the general public,
(R. 38). At Step Four, the ALJ relied on the testimony of the
VE to find that Plaintiff can perform past relevant work. (R.
43). In the alternative, at Step Five, the ALJ concluded that
there are jobs existing in significant numbers in the
national economy Plaintiff can perform. (R. 44).
Specifically, the VE testified that a person with
Plaintiff's vocational factors and the assessed RFC can
perform the positions of buffing ...