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, Linda Rivera'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. # 19]. The Commissioner, in turn, has moved for an
order affirming his decision. [Doc. # 22]. After careful
consideration of the arguments raised by both parties, and
thorough review of the administrative record, the Court
grants Plaintiff's motion and remands the case for
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; 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).
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, 844 (2d Cir. 1981). “The
findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any
fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be
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 May 18, 2016 and her SSI
application on February 14, 2017. Both applications alleged a
disability onset date of March 1, 2012. Plaintiff's
claims were denied at both the initial and reconsideration
levels. Thereafter, Plaintiff requested a hearing. On
February 26, 2018, a hearing was held before Administrative
Law Judge Ronald J. Thomas (“the ALJ”).
Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, and a vocational
expert (“VE”) testified at the hearing. On May
23, 2018, the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff's
claims. Plaintiff timely requested review of the ALJ's
decision by the Appeals Council. On July 27, 2018, the
Appeals Council denied review, making the ALJ's decision
the final determination of the Commissioner. This action
was forty-three years old on the hearing date. (R. 45). She
has a high school education and can communicate in English.
(R. 33). Plaintiff has past work experience as a cashier and
a grocery clerk. (R. 32). Plaintiff's complete medical
history is set forth in the Joint Stipulation of Facts filed
by the parties. [Doc. # 19-1]. 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.
The ALJ first determined that due to administrative res
judicata, the portion of the September 11, 2017, request
for hearing relating to the prior adjudicated period, up
through the date of the ALJ decision dated August 3, 2015,
was dismissed. (R. 24, 34).
One, the ALJ found Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since August 4, 2015. (R. 24). At Step Two,
the ALJ found Plaintiff has the following severe impairments:
degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine; left foot
pain; diabetes mellitus; fibromyalgia; affective disorder;
anxiety disorder; and post-traumatic stress disorder. (R.
25). 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. 25-27). Next, the ALJ determined Plaintiff
retains the following residual functional
to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. 404.1567(b) and
416.967(b) except occasional bending, balancing, twisting,
squatting, kneeling, crawling, and climbing; but no climbing
ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; and she should avoid hazards of
heights, vibrations, and dangerous machinery. She should have
no left foot controls and may use a cane to walk. The
claimant is capable of performing simple, routine,
repetitious work that does not require ...