United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RULING ON PENDING MOTIONS
A. RICHARDSON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Virginia Torres (“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 June 22,
2018. Plaintiff timely appealed to this court. Currently
pending are plaintiff's motion for an order reversing and
remanding her case for a hearing (Dkt. #17-1) and
defendant's motion to affirm the decision of the
Commissioner. (Dkt. #21-1.)
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.
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).
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).
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
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.
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
initially filed for disability insurance benefits under Title
II on November 16, 2009. (R. 181.) Plaintiff alleged a
disability onset date of April 20, 2000. (R. 181.) At the
time of application, plaintiff alleged that she suffered from
fibromyalgia, lupus, Sjogren's syndrome, and migraines.
(R. 98.) The initial application was denied on January 14,
2010, and again upon reconsideration on March 17, 2010. (R.
98- 101, 106-108). Plaintiff then filed for an administrative
hearing which was held by ALJ Kim K. Griswold on February 3,
2011. (R. 34-74.) The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on
February 25, 2011. (R. 13-28.) The Decision Review Board
selected plaintiff's claim for review and issued a
decision on May 27, 2011 affirming ALJ Griswold's
decision. (R. 1-4, 13.)
March 2, 2012, upon judicial review, plaintiff's case was
remanded. (R. 1107.) The Appeals Counsel then remanded
plaintiff's case to ALJ Griswold on April 6, 2012. (R.
1114- 18.) ALJ Griswold held a second hearing on June 20,
2013 and issued an unfavorable decision on September 27,
2013. (R. 998- 1021; 1030-80.)
second judicial review, plaintiff's case was remanded on
March 29, 2016. (R. 1757.) On June 19, 2017, the Appeals
Council remanded plaintiff's case to ALJ Ryan A. Alger
(hereinafter the “ALJ”). (R. 1758-60.) The ALJ
held a hearing on May 15, 2018 and issued an unfavorable
decision on June 22, 2018. (R. 1593-1616; 1678-1709.)
Plaintiff then filed this action seeking judicial review.
asserts that the ALJ's opinion is not supported by
substantial evidence; the ALJ failed to adequately develop
the record; and that the ALJ violated the treating physician
rule by assigning little weight to the opinions of Advanced
Practice Registered Nurse (“APRN”) Wisniewski and
Doctors Brumberger, Manning, and Vice-Hlavacek. (Pl. Br.
1-11, 14.) Based on the following, the Court finds that the
ALJ did not violate the treating physician rule, but the
ALJ's evaluation of Dr. Manning's opinion is not
supported by substantial evidence. The Court reverses without
considering the remaining arguments. I. The ALJ Did Not
Violate the Treating Physician Rule Plaintiff asserts that
the ALJ violated the treating physician rule by assigning
little weight to the opinions of Doctors Brumberger, Manning,
and Vice-Hlavacek and APRN Wisniewski. (Pl. Br. 1-11, 14.)
Plaintiff asserts that each of these individuals is a
treating physician and therefore his or her opinion is
entitled to controlling weight. (Pl. Br. 2.) The Court finds
that while Dr. Manning is not a treating physician, the
ALJ's evaluation of Dr. Manning's opinion is not
supported by substantial evidence.
medical opinions of treating physicians are generally given
more weight than other evidence. The treating physician rule
stipulates that “the opinion of a claimant's
treating physician as to the nature and severity of the
impairment is given ‘controlling weight' as long as
it ‘is well-supported by medically acceptable clinical
and laboratory diagnostic techniques and is not inconsistent
with the other substantial evidence in [the] case
record.'” Burgess v. Astrue, 537 F.3d 117,
128 (2d Cir. 2008) (quoting 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(d)(2));
see also Mariani v. Colvin, 567 Fed.Appx. 8, 10 (2d
Cir. 2014) (“A treating physician's opinion need
not be given controlling weight where it is not