United States District Court, D. Connecticut
NORMA E. SHAPLEIGH Plaintiff,
ANDREW SAUL, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.
RULING AND ORDER
N. Chatigny, United States District Judge
Shapleigh appeals the denial of her applications for
disability insurance benefits and supplemental security
income benefits by the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration (“Commissioner”). Plaintiff moves
for an order reversing the decision or, in the alternative,
remanding the case for further proceedings. The Commissioner,
in turn, has moved for an order affirming the decision. The
principal issue on appeal is whether the ALJ correctly
discounted the weight to be given the opinion of a treating
physician. I agree with the plaintiff that a remand is
necessary to ensure compliance with the treating physician
August 5, 2014, plaintiff filed an application for disability
benefits claiming she had been disabled for about two
months. A disability adjudicator denied
plaintiff's request for disability benefits and
thereafter denied a request for reconsideration. On March 30,
2016, plaintiff appeared with counsel for a hearing before an
ALJ. Several weeks later, the ALJ issued a decision denying
benefits. The appeals council denied plaintiff's request
for review of the decision. This appeal followed.
assume the parties' familiarity with the facts and
therefore provide only a brief summary.
hearing before the ALJ, plaintiff testified that severe pain
restricts her ability to work because she cannot stand, sit,
or crouch for very long. She described experiencing pain
resulting from reaching and manipulating small items. She
acknowledged being able to engage in daily activities of
self- care and manipulate small objects like buttons,
zippers, fruit and cigarettes.
first complained of significant neck and lower back pain
after a rear-end motor vehicle collision in July 2009. She
was eventually seen by Dr. Cloutier, a family practitioner,
and reported a continuing history of chronic back pain. Dr.
Cloutier began treating plaintiff in March 2014 and was
continuing to treat her at the time of the hearing in March
Cloutier's treatment notes indicate that plaintiff had
scoliosis and chronic back pain, as well as a relatively mild
neck injury that was expected to improve. The notes show that
she had a normal range of motion and no weakness. Between
November 2014 and January 2016, plaintiff was seen by other
treatment providers for chronic back pain, scoliosis and
carpal tunnel symptoms.
Cloutier has completed several medical source statements. The
first, dated March 16, 2015, states that plaintiff was
limited to lifting no more than ten pounds, standing or
walking for up to two hours per day, and sitting for up to
two hours per day, and that she was to avoid repetitive
pushing/pulling and bilateral rotation of the hands, as well
as repetitive bending, climbing, carrying, pushing, pulling,
and overhead reaching. The other source statements completed
by Dr. Cloutier describe similar limitations. For instance, a
statement dated January 7, 2016, described plaintiff as
limited to twenty minutes of sitting during a work day.
September 19, 2014, a consultative examination was performed
by Herbert Reiher, MD. He noted that plaintiff experienced
back and neck pain. However, he placed significantly less
restrictive conditions on her ability to work. He found that
she could sit, walk and stand for six hours and frequently
lift fifteen pounds. Two state-agency medical consultants
also submitted findings based on their review of the record,
which are generally consistent with Dr. Reiher's
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, [are] conclusive
. . . .” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Accordingly, the
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 ascertain whether the
Commissioner applied the correct legal principles, and
whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence.
Johnson v. Bowen, 817 F.2d 983, 985 (2d Cir. 1987);
Berry v. Schweiker, 675 F.2d 464, 467 (2d Cir.
1982). Substantial evidence means “‘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)). Substantial evidence
must be “more than a mere scintilla or a touch of proof
here and there in the record.” Id.
Social Security Act establishes that benefits are payable to
individuals who have a disability. 42 U.S.C. §
423(a)(1). “The term ‘disability' means . . .
[an] inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity
by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental
impairment . . . .” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1). In
order to determine whether a claimant is disabled within the
meaning of the Social Security Act, the ALJ must follow a
five-step evaluation process as promulgated by the
order to be considered disabled, an individual's
impairment must be “of such severity that [s]he is not
only unable to do h[er] previous work but cannot . . . engage
in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in
the national economy.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A).
“[W]ork which exists in the national economy means work
which exists in significant ...