United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RULING ON THE PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO REVERSE THE
DECISION OF THE COMMISSIONER, OR IN THE ALTERNATIVE, MOTION
FOR REMAND FOR A HEARING, 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
[“SSDI”] and Supplemental Security Income
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).
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).
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.
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.
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).
THE ALJ'S DECISION
the five-step evaluation process,  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
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)).
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 ...