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, Louise Albertine Testa's, application for
Title II disability insurance benefits (“DIB”)
and Supplemental Social Security Income (“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 his case for a rehearing. [Doc. #13]. The
Commissioner, in turn, has moved for an order affirming his
decision. [Doc. # 14]. 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 further proceedings.
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 2, 2016, and SSI application
on May 3, 2016, alleging an onset of disability as of
December 7, 2015. Her claim was denied at both the initial
and reconsideration levels. Thereafter, Plaintiff requested a
hearing. On March 21, 2018, a hearing was held before
Administrative Law Judge Louis Bonsangue (“the
ALJ”). Plaintiff, who was represented by counsel, and a
vocational expert (“VE”), testified at the
hearing. On April 4, 2018, the ALJ issued a decision denying
Plaintiff's claims. Plaintiff timely requested review of
the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council. On December
10, 2018, the Appeals Council denied review, making the
ALJ's decision the final determination of the
Commissioner. This action followed.
was fifty years old on the alleged onset of disability date.
(R. 23). She completed a high school education and can
communicate in English. (R. 24). At the time of the hearing,
Plaintiff was working as a crossing guard approximately 2
hours per day. (R. 18). Plaintiff's earnings in that job
are not enough to reach substantial gainful activity levels,
as a result, she has no past relevant work under the Social
Security rules. (R.18). Plaintiff's complete medical
history is set forth in the Statement of Facts filed by the
parties. [Doc. ##13-1; 14-1]. The Court adopts these
statements and incorporates them by reference herein.
The ALJ's Decision
followed the sequential evaluation process to determine
whether Plaintiff was disabled under the Social Security Act.
One, the ALJ found Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial
gainful activity since December 7, 2015. (R. 18). At Step
Two, the ALJ found Plaintiff has the following severe
impairments: obesity, fibromyalgia, and osteoarthritis of the
lumbar spine. (R. 18). 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. 19-20). Next, the ALJ determined
Plaintiff retains the following residual functional
to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and
416.967(b), but with the limitations described in this
paragraph. The claimant could occasionally climb ramps and
stairs, but she could never climb ropes, ladders and
scaffolds. She could frequently balance, occasionally stoop,
occasionally kneel, and occasionally crouch and never crawl.
Additionally, the claimant must avoid concentrated exposure
to extreme cold, humidity, vibration, moving parts and
unprotected heights. Furthermore, the claimant could stand
and walk, combined, only 4 hours in an 8-hour workday.
Four, the ALJ found that plaintiff had no past relevant work.
(R. 23). Finally, at Step Five, the ALJ relied on the
testimony of a vocational expert to find that there are jobs
that exist in significant numbers in the national economy
that Plaintiff can perform. (R. 24-25). Accordingly, the ALJ
determined Plaintiff was not disabled from December 7, 2015,
through the date of his decision, April 4, 2018. (R. 25).