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, Gladys Pabon Pacheco's, application for Title
II disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) . 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 this case for a rehearing. [Doc. #14]. The
Commissioner, in turn, has moved for an order affirming his
decision. [Doc. # 15]. After careful consideration of the
arguments raised by both parties, and thorough review of the
administrative record, the Court grants Plaintiff's
motion to reverse/remand and denies the Commissioner's
motion to affirm.
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 August 5, 2016, alleging an
onset of disability as of December 23, 2015. Her claim was
denied at both the initial and reconsideration levels.
Thereafter, Plaintiff requested a hearing. On March 15, 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 May 22,
2018, the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff's
claims. Plaintiff timely requested review of the ALJ's
decision by the Appeals Council. On May 1, 2019, the Appeals
Council denied review, making the ALJ's decision the
final determination of the Commissioner. This action
was fifty-two years old on the alleged onset date. (R. 82).
She completed high school, attended college for one year, is
unable to communicate in English, and has past relevant work
a candy packer. (R. 25, 41). Plaintiff's complete medical
history is set forth in the Statement of Facts filed by the
parties. [Doc. ##14-1; 15]. The Court adopts these statements
and incorporates them by reference herein.
followed the sequential evaluation process to determine
whether Plaintiff was disabled under the Social Security Act.
One, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since her alleged onset date of
December 23, 2015. (R. 18). At Step Two, the ALJ found
Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: depression,
bipolar, panic and anxiety disorders. (R. 19-20). 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. 20-22). Next,
the ALJ determined Plaintiff retains the following residual
to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but
with the following nonexertional limitations: the claimant is
able to perform simple, routine, repetitive tasks, consisting
of 1-2 steps for 2 hour increments in a normal workday; no
strict adherence to time or production quotas; no work with
public; no collaborative efforts required; and after learning
new tasks, the claimant is able to have occasional
interaction with coworkers and supervisors.
Four, the ALJ found that, through the date last insured,
Plaintiff was able to perform her past relevant work. (R.
25). The ALJ also made an alternative Step Five finding. (R.
26). 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. 26).
Accordingly, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not
disabled from December 23, 2015, the alleged onset date,
through May 22, 2018, the date of the ALJ's decision. (R.
raises several arguments in support of her Motion to Reverse,