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Zamfino v. Saul

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

August 8, 2019



          Robert M. Spector United States Magistrate Judge.

         This 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 [“SSDI”] and Supplemental Security Income benefits [“SSI”].


         On September 2, 2015, the plaintiff filed an application for SSDI, and on October 7, 2015, filed an application for SSI claiming that he has been disabled since July 29, 2015, due to chronic depression, severe anxiety, lower back pain, neck pain, numbness in his hands and feet, and a head injury. (Certified Transcript of Administrative Proceedings, dated January 19, 2019 [“Tr.”] 213-23; see Tr. 68). The plaintiff's applications were denied initially and upon reconsideration (Tr. 118-57), and on September 29, 2017, a hearing was held before ALJ Ronald J. Thomas, at which the plaintiff and a vocational expert testified. (Tr. 40-64). On November 21, 2017, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision denying the plaintiff's claim for benefits (Tr. 20-35), and on January 9, 2018, the plaintiff filed a request for review of the hearing decision. (Tr. 210). On September 28, 2018, the Appeals Council denied the request, thereby rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-4).

         On November 27, 2018, the plaintiff filed his complaint in this pending action (Doc. No. 1), and on January 7, 2019, the parties consented to the jurisdiction of a United States Magistrate Judge. (Doc. No. 14). This case was transferred accordingly. On April 5, 2019, the plaintiff filed his Motion to Reverse the Decision of the Commissioner (Doc. No. 17), with a Statement of Material Facts (Doc. 17-1), and a brief in support. (Doc. 17-2 [“Pl.'s Mem.”]). On May 20, 2019, the defendant filed his Motion to Affirm (Doc. No. 18), with a brief in support (Doc. No. 18-1 [“Def.'s Mem.”]), and his Statement of Material Facts. (Doc. No. 18-2).

         For the reasons stated below, the plaintiff's Motion to Reverse the Decision of the Commissioner (Doc. No. 17) is denied, and the defendant's Motion to Affirm (Doc. No. 18) is granted.


         On the date of the hearing, the plaintiff was thirty-three years old, single, and living with his mother and sister. (Tr. 43). The plaintiff received special education as a child, and he attended school until the 8th grade (Tr. 45, 57), and then received his GED in 2004. (Tr. 366). He worked “small jobs” at Dunkin' Donuts, Stop and Shop, Big Lots, Carpet King, and Choice Pet, and worked as an assistant cabinet maker for C&G Crafts. (Tr. 45-46; see also Tr. 253, 264, 268, 273-74). Additionally, he worked as a carpenter “[b]asically building homes from inside out[, ]” and he held a job trimming trees. (Tr. 269-70). According to the plaintiff, he was fired from his last job at Stop and Shop because “they just didn't see [him] as a person that could stay focused on work[.]” (Tr. 57). He worked at Big Lots for one and a half weeks but, according to the plaintiff, it “didn't work out because of [his] mental illness.” (Tr. 275). The plaintiff testified that he could not work due to “depression and anxiety and agoraphobia[, ]” which have “gradually” gotten worse. (Tr. 46). The plaintiff testified that he tried to take his life, and, although he had a history of heroin use, he had been clean and sober since 2013. (Tr. 48). Additionally, according to the plaintiff, he had lower back pain that prevented him from lifting more than five pounds and from standing more than ten or fifteen minutes. (Tr. 49-51).

         The plaintiff testified that his mother cooked and did the chores for him. (Tr. 51-52, 280; see Tr. 276 (feeds his iguana)). The plaintiff did not do laundry because the last time he did the laundry, he put too much soap in and made a mess. (Tr. 55). He did not go to the grocery store because he feels he “doesn't belong.” (Tr. 54). During the day, the plaintiff watched television and spent a lot of time praying. (Tr. 53). The plaintiff testified that he did not drive (Tr. 51); his doctor was within walking distance to his home. (Tr. 54).


         Following the five-step evaluation process, [2] the ALJ found that the plaintiff last met the insured status requirements on December 31, 2016 (Tr. 25), and that the plaintiff did not engage in substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset date of July 29, 2015. (Tr. 25, citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1571 et seq. and 416.971 et seq.).

         At step two, the ALJ found that the plaintiff had the following severe impairments: neck and back pain, anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and substance addiction disorder. (Tr. 145, citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)). The ALJ concluded at step three that the plaintiff 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. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, and specifically, did not meet or medically equal the criteria of listing 12.06 (Affective and Anxiety Related Disorders) and listing 1.04 (Disorders of the Spine). (Tr. 26-27). The ALJ concluded that the plaintiff had the residual functional capacity [“RFC”] to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following nonexertional limitations: he was capable of simple, routine, repetitious work tasks that do not require teamwork or working closely with the public and could occasionally interact with co-workers and supervisors, but could not interact with the general public. (Tr. 27-28). At step four, the ALJ concluded that the plaintiff was capable of performing his past relevant work as a store laborer, as that work did not require the performance of work-related activities precluded by the claimant's RFC. (Tr. 33-34). At step five, the ALJ made the alternative finding that the plaintiff could perform other work in the national economy, including the work of a “laborer, salvage[, ]” a “vehicle cleaner[, ]” and a “cleaner[.]” (Tr. 33-34, citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1565 and 416.965). Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that the plaintiff was not under a disability at any time from July 29, 2015, through November 21, 2017, the date of the decision. (Tr. 35, citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(f) and 416.920(f)).


         The 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 ...

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