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Montelli v. Saul

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

December 16, 2019

ANDREW SAUL, Defendant


          Jeffrey Alker Meyer United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Michael Montelli claims that he is disabled and unable to work due to several conditions. He filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, who denied Montelli's application for supplemental security income.[1] For the reasons set forth below, I will deny Montelli's motion to reverse the Commissioner's decision and grant the Commissioner's motion to affirm.


         I refer to the transcripts provided by the Commissioner. See Doc. #12. Montelli filed an application for supplemental security income on June 7, 2016, alleging a disability beginning on December 1, 2012. Id. at 112-13. Montelli's claim was initially denied in September of 2016, id. at 140, and denied again upon reconsideration on February 24, 2017, id. at 148. He then filed a request for a hearing in April of 2017. Id. at 151.

         Montelli appeared and testified at a hearing in Hartford, Connecticut, before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Alexander P. Borre on June 26, 2018. Id. at 44. Montelli was represented by counsel. Ibid. On August 14, 2018, the ALJ issued a decision concluding that Montelli was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. See Id. at 16. The Appeals Council denied Montelli's request for review on October 2, 2018. Id. at 1. Montelli then filed this case on October 29, 2018. Doc. #1.

         To qualify as disabled, a claimant must show that he 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 [a 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 [a claimant] [is] able to meet with [their] physical or mental abilities and vocational qualifications.” 20 C.F.R. § 416.966(a)-(b); see also Kennedy v. Astrue, 343 Fed.Appx. 719, 722 (2d Cir. 2009) (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1566(b)).

         To evaluate a claimant's disability, and to determine whether he qualifies for benefits, the agency engages in the following five-step process:

First, the Commissioner considers whether the claimant is currently engaged in substantial gainful activity. Where the claimant is not, the Commissioner next considers whether the claimant has a “severe impairment” that significantly limits [his] physical or mental ability to do basic work activities. If the claimant suffers such an impairment, the third inquiry is whether, based solely on medical evidence, the claimant has an impairment that is listed [in the so-called “Listings”] ¶ 20 C.F.R. pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1. If the claimant has a listed impairment, the Commissioner will consider the claimant disabled without considering vocational factors such as age, education, and work experience; the Commissioner presumes that a claimant who is afflicted with a listed impairment is unable to perform substantial gainful activity. Assuming the claimant does not have a listed impairment, the fourth inquiry is whether, despite the claimant's severe impairment, [he] has the residual functional capacity to perform [his] past work. Finally, if the claimant is unable to perform [his] past work, the burden then shifts to the Commissioner to determine whether there is other work which the claimant could perform.

Cage v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 692 F.3d 118, 122-23 (2d Cir. 2012) (alteration in original) (citation omitted); see also 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(i)-(v). In applying this framework, an ALJ may find a claimant to be disabled or not disabled at a particular step and may make a decision without proceeding to the next step. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4). The claimant bears the burden of proving the case at Steps One through Four; at Step Five, the burden shifts 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).

         The ALJ concluded that Montelli was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. At Step One, the ALJ concluded Montelli had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 7, 2016, the date of his application for benefits. Doc. #12 at 21. At Step Two, the ALJ found that Montelli suffered from the following severe impairments: “degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, obesity, and depression.” Id. at 22. The ALJ also took note of Montelli's history of diabetes and obstructive sleep apnea, but did not find either of those conditions to be severe, either individually or in combination with other conditions. Ibid.

         At Step Three, the ALJ determined that Montelli did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. Ibid. The ALJ considered Montelli's physical impairments as well as his mental impairments. Id. at 22-25.

         Moving to Step Four, the ALJ then found that Montelli had “the residual capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.97(b) except that the claimant could perform simple and repetitive tasks in an environment with no strict production quotas and no public interaction. The claimant could not climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, or tolerate hazards. The claimant could occasionally stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. The claimant could frequently finger and handle, bilaterally.” Id. at 26. At Step Four, the ALJ concluded that Montelli had no past relevant work that he could be capable of performing. Id. at 33.

         At Step Five, after considering Montelli's age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity (“RFC”), the ALJ concluded that there were jobs that Montelli could perform that existed in significant numbers in the national economy. Id. at 34-35. In reaching this conclusion, the ALJ relied on the testimony of a vocational expert. Ibid. The ALJ ...

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