United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RULING ON THE PLAINTIFF''S MOTION FOR ORDER
REVERSING THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION AND ON THE
DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR AN ORDER AFFIRMING THE
M. Spector United States Magistrate Judge.
action, filed under § 205(g) of the Social Security Act,
42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeks review of a final decision by
the Commissioner of Social Security [“SSA”]
denying the plaintiff disability insurance benefits
[“DIB”] and Supplemental Security Income
19, 2015, the plaintiff filed applications for DIB and SSI,
claiming she has been disabled since September 2, 2014,
to “epilepsy, irregular heartbeat, neck fused, and back
problems.” (Certified Transcript of Administrative
Proceedings, dated April 1, 2019 [“Tr.”] 199-213,
241). The plaintiff's application was denied initially,
(Tr. 120-129), and upon reconsideration. (Tr. 145-163). On
November 2, 2017, a hearing was held before Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”) Barry H. Best, at which the
plaintiff and a vocational expert testified. (Tr. 34-57). The
plaintiff was represented by an attorney. (Id.). On
December 28, 2017, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision
denying the plaintiff's claim for benefits. (Tr. 13-25).
On November 26, 2018, the Appeals Council denied the
plaintiff's request for review, thereby rendering the
ALJ's decision final. (Tr. 1-5).
January 29, 2019, the plaintiff filed her complaint in this
pending action (Doc. No. 1). On January 31, 2019, the parties
consented to the jurisdiction of a United States Magistrate
Judge, and the case was transferred to the undersigned. (Doc.
No. 7). On April 1, 2019, the defendant filed the
administrative transcript. (Doc. No. 8). The plaintiff filed
her Motion to Reverse on July 9, 2019, (Doc. No. 16), with
brief in support, (Doc. No. 16-1 [“Pl.'s
Mem.”]), and Statement of Material Facts. (Doc. No.
16-2). On September 16, 2019, the defendant filed his Motion
to Affirm, (Doc. No. 1), with brief in support, (Doc. No.
19-1 [“Def.'s Mem.”]), and Statement of
Material Facts. (Doc. No. 19-2). For the reasons stated
below, the plaintiff's Motion to Reverse (Doc. No. 16) is
GRANTED, and the defendant's Motion to Affirm (Doc. No.
19) is DENIED.
Court presumes the parties' familiarity with the
plaintiff's medical history, which is discussed in the
parties' respective Statement of Facts. (Doc. Nos. 16-2,
19-2). Though the Court has reviewed the entirety of the
medical record, it cites only the portions of the record that
are necessary to explain this decision.
plaintiff testified at a hearing before the ALJ on November
2, 2017. (Tr. 34-57). At the time of this hearing, the plaintiff
was thirty-nine years old and living with her husband and
eight-year-old son in a second-floor apartment. (Tr. 39-40).
She had to climb stairs to reach her apartment. (Tr. 40). She
graduated from high school and completed two years of
college, but she did not obtain a college degree.
(Id.). She had not worked since February 2015. (Tr.
41). She previously worked as a manager in a doughnut shop
and as a catering manager. (Id.).
plaintiff testified that she saw Nurse Practitioner Kim Kurey
every four weeks for pain management. Ms. Kurey did
“trigger point shots” in her neck and back and
prescribed her medication. (Tr. 43). The plaintiff testified
that she had the following medication regimen: extended
release OxyContin, Oxycodone, Methocarbamol (a muscle
relaxer), Lamictal (for epilepsy), Gabapentin for neuropathy,
and amitriptyline for migraines. (Tr. 44-45). She also saw
Dr. Stefana Pecher for medicinal marijuana, which she used
two to three times a day, and Dr. Olivia Coiculescu for her
epilepsy. (Tr. 44). She testified that Dr. Coiculescu would
“send [her] for [her] nerve conduction tests.”
(Id.). She also testified that she recently had a
series of three shots for ocular headaches. (Tr. 43). When
asked about side effects from her medications, the plaintiff
testified that they kept her awake and made her unable to
concentrate. (Tr. 45).
to the plaintiff, she “usually [got] about three hours
of sleep” and woke up around 7:00 a.m. (Id.).
She would “lay on [her] heating pad, probably for about
an hour or so.” (Id.). She then helped her son
with his studies; he is “homeschooled because [she]
cannot physically bring him to school.” (Tr. 46). Her
husband would make lunch and dinner before he left for work
so that she could “just warm things up.”
(Id.). She showered “probably twice a
week” with her husband's help. (Id.). She
did not do any of the food shopping, sweeping, vacuuming, or
washing dishes, but she did fold laundry. (Id.). She
watched “about an hour and a half” of television
a day. (Tr. 47). She also read and played games on her phone
but did not use a computer. (Id.). She would drive
“every couple months.” (Id.). The
plaintiff testified that the most she could lift or carry
would be “about seven pounds”; if she tried to
lift more than seven pounds, she would “be in
excruciating pain” and “[p]ossibly fall.”
(Tr. 48). She also testified that she would only be able to
stand or walk for “about 10 or 15 minutes” before
needing to sit down, and that she would only be able to sit
for “the same.” (Id.).
plaintiff testified that in early 2014, while she was
working, she began having problems at work. (Tr. 49). She
started “dropping things” and she
“wasn't able to concentrate.” (Id.).
She also missed worked “[s]everal times”
unexpectedly. (Id.). When asked about her epilepsy,
the plaintiff testified that she took Lamictal and saw her
neurologist “every couple [of] months.”
(Id.). The medication had been helping, but she had
recently had a seizure in her sleep. (Id.). She
similarly testified that her migraines had “gotten a
little bit better, ” but that “about six months
ago” she started getting “really bad ocular
headaches.” (Tr. 50). As to her neuropathy, the
plaintiff testified that it had gotten worse after her second
surgery. (Tr. 51).
R. Smith, a vocational expert (“VE”), also
testified at the plaintiff's hearing. The VE testified
that the plaintiff's past work as a doughnut shop manager
corresponded with “fast food services manager, ”
a skilled occupation typically performed at the light
exertional level but performed at the medium exertional level
as reported by the plaintiff. (Tr. 53). He testified that the
plaintiff's past work as a catering manager corresponded
with “food service manager, ” also a skilled
occupation typically performed at the light exertional level,
though the plaintiff had “noted lifting and heavy
exertional range, frequent lifting of 50 pounds.” (Tr.
then asked the VE to assume the following hypothetical
individual: an individual of the plaintiff's age,
education, and work background, with limitations of no more
than occasional climbing, balancing, stooping, kneeling,
crouching, crawling; no work on scaffolds or ladders or
ropes; and no work that requires activity at or above
shoulder level. (Tr. 54). Such individual would also be
limited by pain or effects of medication to uncomplicated
tasks that are consistent with the elements of unskilled work
activity. (Id.). The ALJ asked the VE to address
both light and sedentary exertional levels when answering the
ALJ's questions. (Id.).
response to questioning, the VE testified that the
hypothetical individual described above could not perform the
plaintiff's past work. (Tr. 54). The hypothetical
individual, if limited to the light exertional level, could
perform the occupations of general office clerk, office
helper, assembler, and packager. (Id.). If limited
to the sedentary exertional level, the hypothetical
individual could perform the occupations of assembler and
inspector. (Id.). When asked whether the
hypothetical individual, with an additional limitation of not
more than occasional handling and fingering, could perform
the jobs referenced above, the VE answered in the negative.
(Tr. 55). The VE also testified that one absence each month
was tolerable and that an individual who was off task ten
percent or more during the workday would have difficulty
“keeping up with the job and ultimately, holding on to
the job.” ...