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Demoranville v. Saul

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

December 10, 2019

CHARLIE LEROY DEMORANVILLE, plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW SAUL,[1] COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, defendant.

          RULING ON PENDING MOTIONS

          Robert A. Richardson United States Magistrate Judge

         Charlie Leroy Demoranville (“plaintiff”) appeals the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“the Commissioner”) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The Commissioner denied plaintiff's application for Social Security Disability Benefits in a decision dated September 18, 2015. Plaintiff timely appealed to this court. Currently pending are plaintiff's motion for an order reversing and remanding his case for a hearing (Dkt. #14-2) and defendant's motion to affirm the decision of the Commissioner. (Dkt. #15.)

         For the reasons that follow, the plaintiff's motion to reverse, or in the alternative, remand is GRANTED and the Commissioner's motion to affirm is DENIED.

         STANDARD

         “A 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 and 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 in reaching her conclusion, and whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence. Johnson v. Bowen, 817 F.2d 983, 985 (2d Cir. 1987).

         Therefore, absent legal error, this court may not set aside the decision of the Commissioner if it is supported by substantial evidence. Berry v. Schweiker, 675 F.2d 464, 467 (2d Cir. 1982). Further, 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. 1982).

         The Second Circuit has defined substantial evidence as “‘such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'” Williams on Behalf of 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 scintilla or touch of proof here and there in the record.” Williams, 859 F.2d at 258.

         The Social Security Act(“SSA”) provides 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 SSA, the ALJ must follow a five-step evaluation process as promulgated by the Commissioner.[2]

         In order to be considered disabled, an individual's impairment must be “of such severity that he is not only unable to do his 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 numbers either in the region where such individual lives or in several regions of the country.” Id.[3]

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff initially filed for disability insurance benefits under Title II on June 23, 2015. (R. 195.)[4] Plaintiff alleged a disability onset date of April 22, 2015. (R. 90.) At the time of application, plaintiff alleged that he suffered from precancerous polyps in his colon, arthritis in his back and left shoulder, stomach and urinary problems, a spot on his lung, and high blood pressure. (R. 90.) The initial application was denied on September 18, 2015, and again on March 30, 2016, upon reconsideration. (R. 90-97, 99-104.) Plaintiff then filed for an administrative hearing which was held by ALJ V.P. McGinn (hereinafter the “ALJ”) on September 26, 2017. (R. 32-61.) The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on October 27, 2017. (R. 12-25.) On October 31, 2017, plaintiff sought a review by the Appeals Council, which was denied on September 25, 2018. (R. 1-6.) Plaintiff then filed this action seeking judicial review. (Dkt. #14-2.)

         DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff asserts that he is entitled to remand because the ALJ was not properly appointed; the ALJ's determinations at step two and five are not supported by substantial evidence; and the ALJ failed to develop the record. (Pl. Br. 1, 8, 17, 18.) The Court finds that although plaintiff's challenge regarding the ALJ's appointment was untimely and the ALJ's step two decision was supported by substantial evidence, the ALJ failed to develop the record. The Court therefore remands the ALJ's decision without considering plaintiff's remaining claims.

         I. Plaintiff's Challenge Regarding the ALJ's Appointment Is Untimely

         Plaintiff asserts that because the ALJ was not properly appointed when he decided the case, plaintiff is entitled to ...


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