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, Christine Intravia's, application for Title II
disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). 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. # 14]. The
Commissioner, in turn, has moved for an order affirming his
decision. [Doc. # 15]. 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.
the Social Security Act, disability is defined as the
“inability to engage in any substantial gainful
activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or
mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or
which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous
period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. §
423(d)(1)(A). A claimant will meet this definition if his or
her impairments are of such severity that the claimant cannot
perform pervious work and also cannot, considering the
claimant's age education, and work experience,
“engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work
which exists in the national economy.” 42 U.S.C. §
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.
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).
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 application on February 23, 2015, alleging a
disability onset date of January 1, 2015. Plaintiff's
claim was denied at both the initial and reconsideration
levels. Thereafter, Plaintiff requested a hearing. On March
3, 2017, a hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge
Edward F. Sweeney (“the ALJ”). Plaintiff, who was
represented by counsel, and a vocational expert
(“VE”) testified at the hearing. On May 3, 2017,
the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff's claim.
Plaintiff timely requested review of the ALJ's decision
by the Appeals Council. On July 3, 2018, the Appeals Council
denied review, making the ALJ's decision the final
determination of the Commissioner. This action followed.
was forty-four years old on the alleged disability onset
date. (R. 119). She has a high school education. (R. 120).
Plaintiff has experience working in a coffee shop.
(Id.). She last worked in January 2015. (R. 121).
Plaintiff's complete medical history is set forth in the
Joint Stipulation of Facts filed by the parties. [Doc. #
14-1]. The Court adopts this stipulation and incorporates it
by reference herein.
The ALJ's Decision
followed the sequential evaluation process to determine
whether Plaintiff was disabled under the Social Security Act.
At Step One, the ALJ found Plaintiff has not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date.
(R. 14). At Step Two, the ALJ found Plaintiff's
degenerative disc disease of the cervical and lumbar spine to
be a severe impairment. (Id.). The ALJ concluded
that carpal tunnel syndrome was not a severe impairment. (R.
14-15). 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. 15). Next, the ALJ determined Plaintiff
retains the following residual functional
Plaintiff can perform light work except she can occasionally
climb ladders, ropes, scaffolds, ramps, and stairs, and can
frequently kneel, crouch, and crawl.
(R. 15-9). At Step Four, the ALJ found Plaintiff is unable to
perform past relevant work. (R. 19). Finally, at Step Five,
the ALJ relied on the testimony of the VE to conclude that
there are jobs existing in significant numbers in the
national economy Plaintiff can perform. (R. 20).
Specifically, the VE testified that a person with
Plaintiff's vocational factors and the assessed RFC can
perform the positions of cashier, ...