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, Mary Martucci'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. # 18]. The Commissioner, in turn, has moved for an
order affirming his decision. [Doc. # 21]. After careful
consideration of the arguments raised by both parties, and
thorough review of the administrative record, the Court
grants the Commissioner's motion to affirm.
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 his 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.” Id. 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.
filed her DIB and SSI applications on March 30, 2012,
alleging a disability onset date of September 15, 2008. Her
date last insured is June 30, 2012. Plaintiff's claims
were denied at both the initial and reconsideration levels.
Thereafter, Plaintiff requested a hearing. On May 6, 2014, a
hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge Ronald J.
Thomas (“the ALJ”). On June 27, 2014, the ALJ
issued a decision denying Plaintiff's claims. Plaintiff
timely requested review of the ALJ's decision by the
Appeals Council. The Appeals Council denied review, and
Plaintiff appealed to this court. On November 1, 2016, United
States Magistrate Judge Margolis remanded the matter to the
Commissioner and entered judgment in Plaintiff's favor.
Martucci v. Colvin, No. 3:16-cv-00689(JGM). The
Appeals Council issued an order on March 16, 2017 returning
the case to the ALJ for a new hearing. This new hearing was
held on February 2, 2018. Plaintiff and a vocational expert
(“VE”) provided testimony. On May 22, 2018, the
ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff's claims. The
ALJ's 2018 decision became the final determination of the
Commissioner. This action followed.
was forty-one years old on her alleged disability onset date.
She has a high school diploma and some college. In 2006,
Plaintiff was diagnosed with chondrosarcoma of the left
scapula; she had surgery in 2006 to excise the tumor and
remove a portion of her scapula and related musculature. In
2008, Plaintiff injured her right, dominant, hand, and
required surgery to the small finger to implant a plate and
screws. Plaintiff last worked in 2008; she testified she
stopped working due to lack of mobility in her left arm and
difficulty using her right hand. Her past work experience
includes positions as a receptionist, data entry clerk, and
collections clerk. Plaintiff's complete medical history
is set forth in the Joint Stipulation of Facts filed by the
parties. [Doc. # 18-1]. 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. 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 September 15, 2008, the
alleged onset date. (R. 885). At Step Two, the ALJ found
Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: status post
chondrosarcoma of the left shoulder with scapula resection;
status post-fracture of the right metatarsal finger; asthma;
obesity; and depressive disorder. (Id.). 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. 855). Next,
the ALJ determined Plaintiff retains the following residual
Plaintiff can perform light work except she can occasionally
bend, twist, squat, kneel, crawl, and climb. She cannot climb
ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. She can occasionally reach
overhead with the left, non-master arm. She must avoid
hazards such as heights, vibration, and dangerous machinery,
but driving is okay. She can perform work tasks that require
only occasional handling with the right master hand. She can
have occasional interaction with the public, co-workers, and
supervisors. She must work in an environment free from
concentrated poor ventilation, dust, fumes, gases, odors,
humidity, and temperature extremes.
(R. 857). At Step Four, the ALJ found Plaintiff is unable to
perform past relevant work. (R. 861). Finally, at Step Five,
the ALJ relied on the testimony of the VE to find that there
are jobs existing in significant numbers in the national
economy Plaintiff can perform. (R. 862). Specifically, the VE
testified that a person with Plaintiff's vocational
factors and the assessed RFC ...