United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RULING ON THE PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO REVERSE THE
DECISION OF THE COMMISSIONER AND ON THE DEFENDANT'S
MOTION FOR AN ORDER AFFIRMING THE DECISION OF THE
M. SPECTOR, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
action filed under § 205(g) of the Social Security Act,
42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeks review of a final decision by
the Commissioner of Social Security [“SSA”]
denying the plaintiff disability insurance benefits
February 17, 2015, the plaintiff filed an application for
SSDI claiming that he had been disabled since April 1, 1995,
when he was twenty-two years old, due to congenital
cerebellar vermian hypoplasia,  learning disabilities,
developmental delay of language and motor skills, depression,
autism spectrum disorder, short-term memory impairment, and
difficulty retaining information and remembering. (Certified
Transcript of Administrative Proceedings, dated September 27,
2018 [“Tr.”] 142, 222-23; see Tr. 81).
The plaintiff's application was denied initially and upon
reconsideration (Tr. 105-06, 157-59), and on November 30,
2016, a hearing was held by videoconference with ALJ Ellen
Parker Bush presiding; the plaintiff testified by video from
Hartford, Connecticut, and a vocational expert and the ALJ
were located in Lawrence, Massachusetts. (Tr. 59-80;
see Tr. 208, 302-04). On January 18, 2017, the ALJ
issued an unfavorable decision denying the plaintiff's
claim for benefits (Tr. 136-56), and on January 27, 2017, the
plaintiff filed a request for review of the hearing decision.
(Tr. 214-21). On July 23, 2018, the Appeals Council denied
the request, thereby rendering the ALJ's decision the
final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-4).
August 22, 2018, the plaintiff, proceeding pro se,
as an unrepresented party, filed his complaint in this
pending action (Doc. No. 1), and on September 20, 2018, the
parties consented to the jurisdiction of a United States
Magistrate Judge. (Doc. No. 14). This case was transferred
accordingly. On October 23, 2018, defendant filed his answer
and administrative transcript, dated September 27, 2018.
(Doc. No. 15). On December 14, 2018, the plaintiff filed a
“Stipulation of Facts” (Doc. No. 18), followed by
a Motion to Reverse the Decision of the Commissioner, on
January 10, 2019. (Doc. No. 20; see Doc. No. 19). On
February 28, 2019, the defendant filed his Motion to Affirm
(Doc. No. 21), and brief in support (Doc. No. 22-1
reasons stated below, the plaintiff's Motion to Reverse
the Decision of the Commissioner (Doc. No. 20) is
denied, and the defendant's Motion to Affirm
(Doc. No. 21) is granted.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
March 16, 2010, the plaintiff applied for Supplemental
Security Income benefits [“SSI”], alleging
disability since December 31, 2008. (Tr. 12-18; see
Tr. 239-46). A hearing was held in New Jersey on October 12,
2011 (Tr. 25-58), at which the plaintiff, a non-attorney
representative for the plaintiff, and a Spanish language
interpreter appeared. (Tr. 25). At that time, the plaintiff
was homeless, and his representative stated that she planned
to get his treatment records but had not received them at the
time of the hearing. (Tr. 31-32). The plaintiff testified
that he attended school until eighth grade and completed his
GED in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico. (Tr. 37). He came to the United
States in February 2010; he does not speak any English. (Tr.
38). The plaintiff testified that he sold clothing for his
family (Tr. 38-39), but had not been able to secure work in a
private business. (Tr. 39). He left the family business
because he “couldn't put up with the pressure and
the humiliation.” (Tr. 39). The plaintiff testified
that he had memory problems, and that he watched television,
but could not remember what he watches. (Tr. 41-42). He
explained that he is friendly, and he had lived with friends
on occasion. (Tr. 43). The ALJ denied that application for
benefits on April 10, 2012. (Tr. 116-35; see Tr.
85). Three years later, SSA granted the plaintiff SSI
benefits. Although only portions of that underlying
application are in the transcript, the record reflects that
in 2015, the plaintiff was found “disabled” with
an onset date of March 1, 2015. (Tr. 103). Moreover, at the
end of her decision on the plaintiff's application for
SSDI, the ALJ noted that her decision “has no effect on
[the plaintiff's] current receipt of [SSI]
benefits.” (Tr. 151).
November 30, 2016, the ALJ held a hearing on the underlying
application for SSDI benefits. (Tr. 61). On the date of that
hearing, the plaintiff was 44 years old. (Tr.
The plaintiff, who only communicates in Spanish, appeared at
this hearing with a translator, but without an attorney. (Tr.
61). The ALJ offered the plaintiff a postponement so that he
could secure the assistance of an attorney, but the plaintiff
insisted that he wanted to go forward. (Tr. 64). The ALJ then
gave the plaintiff a waiver of representation form, and the
interpreter read it to the plaintiff before he signed the
document. (Tr. 64-66). Once the waiver of representation form
was signed, the ALJ commenced her examination of the
plaintiff testified that, when he was 35 years old, he first
“found out about [his] condition[, ] [and he] quickly
came to exercise [his] rights . . . as a disabled
person.” (Tr. 68). The plaintiff moved to the United
States from Puerto Rico, locating first to Florida, and then
to New Jersey, before settling in Connecticut. (Tr. 69-70).
He stayed with friends and relatives in each location (Tr.
70), and then, when he arrived in Connecticut, his mother
stayed with him for the first month. (Tr. 70). He has cousins
who live in the Hartford area, but “none of them care
for [him].” (Tr. 71).
application for benefits in 2010, the plaintiff's
“girl-friend” reported that he “[b]asically
stay[ed] home watching tv all day.” (Tr. 332;
see Tr. 356). He needed reminders to do things, and
he took a long time to do most things. (Tr. 334, 354-55). He
shopped for groceries and cooked microwavable meals. (Tr.
334-36, 352). The plaintiff did not handle stress well, and
he was “afraid of people and places.” (Tr. 338;
see Tr. 355).
plaintiff could drive, but did not have a Connecticut
license. (Tr. 71). He had a Florida driving license, which he
obtained for identification. (Tr. 71).
attended school until tenth grade and received his GED after
two attempts to pass the exam. (Tr. 72-73, 325; but
see Tr. 271 (plaintiff reported he “left school in
8th grade because [he] couldn't continue with [his]
condition”)). His school reports reflected grades
ranging from A to F. (Tr. 347-48). He received a two-year
certificate in computers in 2002, and he learned how to use
PowerPoint and Microsoft Word. (Tr. 73, 75).
explained to the plaintiff that, under his application for
SSDI, “in order to be found eligible[ for benefits, ] .
. . [he] would have to prove that [he was] disabled before
2000, that's 15 years ago.” (Tr. 63). The ALJ told
the plaintiff that the records she had, showed that the
plaintiff was working in 1995 and 1996. (Tr.
The plaintiff initially responded that it was “[o]ne
thing . . . to be able to work, another . . . is to be forced
to work because of food, because if [he] didn't work[, ]
[he] couldn't eat.” (Tr. 63-64).
the ALJ asked the plaintiff about the period between 1993 and
1996 when he filed taxes for self-employment. (Tr. 75-76).
The plaintiff testified that “[t]hose businesses were
[his] mom's”; his mother stole his identify so that
she could open businesses in her name and benefit from them.
(Tr. 76). According to the plaintiff, he was forced to be at
her store, but he could not perform the work. (Tr. 76).
point, the ALJ stopped the plaintiff and recommended that he
get an attorney because “either you did the work and
this is what credit you got for doing the work that allows
you to be eligible for Social Security, or you didn't do
the work and your mother stole your Social Security number
and now you are not eligible for Social Security.” (Tr.
76). The plaintiff then asked about his “right from
being born as a victim without right to being able to
work[.]” (Tr. 77). The ALJ explained that, to be
eligible for SSDI, the plaintiff must have earned credits
through his work history, and for that, the plaintiff's
limited employment in 1993, 1994, 1995 and 1996, was
relevant. (Tr. 77). She explained further that he could not
obtain benefits as a child unless his mother applied for
benefits, but that Supplemental Security Income benefits are
not available in Puerto Rico. (Tr. 78).
the plaintiff asked if he had the “necessary points to
get Social Security?”, the ALJ responded, “Not if
you did not work.” (Tr. 78). In response, the plaintiff
said, “Well, put down that I worked.” (Tr. 78).
At that point, the ALJ stopped the hearing to prevent the
plaintiff from perjuring himself, because the plaintiff was
not “able to tell . . . accurate information.”
THE ALJ'S DECISION
the five-step evaluation process,  the ALJ found that the
plaintiff last met the insured status requirements on June
30, 2000 (Tr. 144), and that the plaintiff did not engage in
substantial gainful activity during the period from his
alleged onset date of April 1, 1995, through his date last
insured of June 30, 2000. (Tr. 145, citing 20 C.F.R. §
404.1571 et seq.).
two, the ALJ concluded that, through the plaintiff's date
last insured, he had the medically determinable impairment of
congenital cerebellar vermain hypoplasia, which was not
diagnosed prior to the date last insured, but which was
“designated a medically determinable impairment based
upon medical opinions that the condition existed since
birth.” (Tr. 145, citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1521).
The ALJ stated that, through the plaintiff's date last
insured, the plaintiff did not have an impairment or
combination of impairments that significantly limited the
ability to perform basic work-related activities for twelve
consecutive months; therefore, the claimant did not have a
severe impairment or combination of impairments. (Tr. 145,
citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1521 et seq.).
Specifically, the ALJ concluded that the medical evidence of
the plaintiff's congenital vermain hypoplasia
“fail[ed] to support more than minimal limitations in
the claimant's ability to perform work activities on a
regular and consistent basis prior to June 3, 2000.”
(Tr. 146). In reaching this conclusion, the ALJ relied on the
prior ALJ decision, dated April 10, 2012, in which that ALJ,
based on the same evidence, found that the plaintiff was not
disabled for the purpose of receiving Supplemental Security
Income benefits as of December 31, 2008. (Tr. 146).
Additionally, the ALJ indicated that the medical evidence did
not support more than minimal limitations prior to June 2000,
and no medical evidence existed prior to 2008. (Tr. 147). The
ALJ considered the four broad functional areas for evaluating
a degenerative neurological disorder before concluding that
the plaintiff's mental impairment caused no more than
“mild” limitation in any of the functional areas.
(Tr. 149-50). Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that the
plaintiff was not under a disability at any time from April
1, 1995, the alleged onset date, through June 30, 2000, the
date last insured. (Tr. 151, citing 20 C.F.R. §
STANDARD OF REVIEW
scope of review of a Social Security disability determination
involves two levels of inquiry. First, the court must decide
whether the Commissioner applied the correct legal principles
in making the determination. Second, the court must decide
whether the determination is supported by substantial
evidence. See Balsamo v. Chater, 142 F.3d 75, 79 (2d
Cir. 1998) (citation omitted). The court may “set aside
the Commissioner's determination that a claimant is not
disabled only if the factual findings are not supported by
substantial evidence or if the decision is based on legal
error.” Burgess v. Astrue, 537 F.3d 117, 127
(2d Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks & citation
omitted); see also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Substantial evidence is evidence that a reasonable mind would
accept as adequate to support a conclusion; it is more than a
“mere scintilla.” Richardson v. Perales,
402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (citation omitted); see Yancey
v. Apfel, 145 F.3d 106, 111 (2d Cir. 1998) (citation
omitted). “The substantial evidence rule also applies
to inferences and conclusions that are drawn from findings of
fact.” Gonzalez v. Apfel, 23 F.Supp.2d 179,
189 (D. Conn. 1998) (citing Rodriguez v. Califano,
431 F.Supp. 421, 423 (S.D.N.Y. 1977)). However, the court may
not decide facts, reweigh evidence, or substitute its
judgment for that of the Commissioner. See Dotson v.
Shalala, 1 F.3d 571, 577 (7th Cir. 1993) (citation
omitted). Instead, the court must scrutinize the entire
record to determine the reasonableness of the ...