United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RULING ON CROSS MOTIONS TO REVERSE AND AFFIRM
DECISION OF THE COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY
JEFFREY ALKER MEYER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Nilda Crespo asserts that she is disabled and unable to work
because of fibromyalgia. She has brought this action pursuant
to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking review of the final
decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, who denied
her claim for social security disability insurance benefits.
Crespo has filed a motion to reverse the decision of the
Commissioner, Doc. #35, and the Commissioner has filed a
motion to affirm his judgment, Doc. #31. For the reasons
discussed below, I will deny Crespo's motion to reverse
and grant the Commissioner's motion to affirm.
to the transcripts provided by the Commissioner. See
Doc. #21-1 through Doc. #21-11. Crespo filed an application
for disability insurance benefits under Title II on December
12, 2013, alleging a disability that began on July 20, 2012.
Doc. #21-8 at 6. Because her earnings record allowed for her
to remain insured through September 30, 2013, she was
required to show that she became disabled on or before that
date. Doc. #21-3 at 28. Crespo's claim was initially
denied on July 9, 2014, Doc. #21-6 at 12, and denied again
upon reconsideration on November 25, 2014, id. at
28. She then timely filed a written request for a hearing by
an administrative law judge (ALJ) on December 9, 2014. Doc.
#21-7 at 15.
appeared with a non-attorney representative and testified at
a hearing in New Haven before ALJ Eskunder Boyd on March 29,
2017. Doc. #21-3 at 43. Vocational expert Jean Spaulding
testified by phone. Ibid. On May 2, 2017, the ALJ
issued a decision concluding that Crespo was not disabled
within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Id.
at 28. The Appeals Council denied Crespo's request for
review on October 27, 2017. Id. at 2. Crespo then
filed this federal court action on March 14, 2018. Doc. #1.
qualify as disabled, a claimant must show that she is unable
"to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason
of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment
which . . . has lasted or can be expected to last for a
continuous period of not less than 12 months, " and
"the impairment must be 'of such severity that [the
claimant] is not only unable to do his previous work but
cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience,
engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which
exists in the national economy.'" Robinson v.
Concentra Health Servs., Inc., 781 F.3d 42, 45 (2d Cir.
2015) (quoting 42 U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A),
423(d)(2)(A)). "[W]ork exists in the national economy
when it exists in significant numbers either in the region
where [claimant] live[s] or in several other regions of the
country, " and "when there is a significant number
of jobs (in one or more occupations) having requirements
which [claimant] [is] able to meet with his physical or
mental abilities and vocational qualifications." 20
C.F.R. § 404.1566(a)-(b); see also Kennedy v.
Astrue, 343 F.App'x 719, 722 (2d Cir. 2009).
agency engages in the following five-step sequential
evaluation process to determine whether a claimant is
(1) whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial
gainful activity; (2) whether the claimant has a severe
impairment or combination of impairments; (3) whether the
impairment meets or equals the severity of the specified
impairments in the Listing of Impairments; (4) based on a
"residual functional capacity" assessment, whether
the claimant can perform any of his or her past relevant work
despite the impairment; and (5) whether there are significant
numbers of jobs in the national economy that the claimant can
perform given the claimant's residual functional
capacity, age, education, and work experience.
Estrella v. Berryhill, 925 F.3d 90, 94 (2d Cir.
2019); see also 20 C.F.R. §
applying this framework, if an ALJ finds a claimant to be
disabled or not disabled at a particular step, he may make a
decision without proceeding to the next step. See 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). The claimant bears the burden
of proving the case at Steps One through Four; the burden
shifts at Step Five to the Commissioner to demonstrate that
there is other work that the claimant can perform. See
McIntyre v. Colvin, 758 F.3d 146, 150 (2d Cir. 2014).
proceeding through all five steps, the ALJ concluded that
Crespo was not disabled within the meaning of the Social
Security Act. At Step One, the ALJ determined that Crespo had
not engaged in substantial gainful activity since July 20,
2012, the date of the alleged onset of her disability. Doc.
#21-3 at 30.
Two, the ALJ concluded that Crespo suffered from the
following severe impairments through her date last insured:
carpal tunnel syndrome, lumbar radiculopathy, fibromyalgia,
depressive disorder, and anxiety disorder. Ibid.
Three, the ALJ determined that Crespo did not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that met or equaled
the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R.
Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Ibid.
then found that Crespo had a residual functional capacity
(RFC) to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. §
404.1567(b), with the following limitations:
[S]he may never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds but can
occasionally climb stairs and ramps. She may occasionally
balance, stoop, and crouch, but never kneel or crawl. She
cannot perform any overhead reaching. She may frequently
handle or finger. She can perform simple routine repetitive
tasks and sustain concentration, persistence, and pace for
two-hour segments. She has no problems interacting with
others. She can stand/walk up to 4 hours total, and sit for
up to 6 hours total. She requires a sit/stand option whereas
[sic] she can sit for about 30 minutes, alternate to
a standing position for about 2-3 minutes, and then resume
Id. at 32. At Step Four, the ALJ concluded that
Crespo was unable to perform any past relevant work through
the date last insured. Id. at 35.
Five, weighing Crespo's age, education, work experience,
and RFC, the ALJ concluded that Crespo had the RFC to perform
a significant number of jobs in the national economy, such as
cashier, price marker, and collator/operator. Id. at
36. In reaching this conclusion, the ALJ relied on the
testimony of the vocational expert. Ibid.
ultimately held that Crespo was not disabled within the
meaning of the Social Security Act. Id. at 37.
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); see
also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence is
"more than a mere scintilla" and "means such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion." Lesterhuis v.
Colvin, 805 F.3d 83, 87 (2d Cir. 2015) (per
curiam). Absent a legal error, the Court must uphold the
Commissioner's decision if it is supported by substantial
evidence, even if the Court might have ruled differently had
it considered the matter in the first instance. See
Eastman v. Barnhart, 241 F.Supp.2d 160, 168 (D. Conn.
makes four claims of error. First, Crespo claims that the ALJ
did not adequately develop the administrative record by
failing to secure various function-by-function assessments
and medical source statements from Crespo's treating
sources. Doc. #35-1 at 17. Second, Crespo claims that the
ALJ's analyses at Step Two and Three were insufficient.
Id. at 24. Third, Crespo claims that the ALJ
inadequately evaluated her fibromyalgia, chronic pain, and
combination of impairments. Id. at 28. Finally,
Crespo claims that the ALJ's Step Five analysis is not
supported by substantial evidence. Id. at 33. I
address each claim in turn.
ALJ's responsibility ...