Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Bruno v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Vermont

July 5, 2016

Elsa Bruno, Plaintiff,
v.
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER (DOCS. 8, 10)

          JOHN M. CONROY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Elsa Bruno brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the Social Security Act, requesting review and remand of the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB). Pending before the Court are Bruno’s motion to reverse the Commissioner’s decision (Doc. 8), and the Commissioner’s motion to affirm the same (Doc. 10). For the reasons stated below, Bruno’s motion is DENIED and the Commissioner’s motion is GRANTED.

         Background

         Bruno was 55 years old on her amended alleged disability onset date of October 23, 2012. She completed school through the 10th grade and does not have a GED. She has past work experience as a cashier, a housekeeper, and a mail clerk. She lives in West Rutland with her second husband of approximately 15 years and has an adult son who lives in Connecticut. (AR 517.)

         Bruno was born in Puerto Rico, and had an abusive and impoverished childhood. (AR 489, 517.) She was the second of her mother’s nine children, each having a different father. (Id.) The family lived in the projects, relying on welfare. (AR 517.) Bruno has never met her father, and her stepfather abused her and her mother. (Id.; AR 489, 505-06.) She married and left home when she was about 16 years old. (AR 489, 517.)

         Bruno suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). She uses an inhaler and a nebulizer to control her COPD, but still wheezes and has trouble breathing when walking even short distances. (AR 136-38.) Against the advice of medical providers, and despite having COPD, Bruno continues to smoke cigarettes. (See, e.g., AR 544.) Due to her CTS, Bruno has pain when grabbing things; her hands feel numb when she wakes in the morning; and she has pain in her wrists. (AR 133-35.) She also suffers from bipolar disorder. She is “continuously angry” and has difficulty getting along with people (AR 489), and she “feel[s] like everybody is talking about [her]” (AR 140). On a typical day, Bruno does not do much of anything: she “barely leave[s] the house” (AR 134) because she does not want to be around people (133-34); she goes out only to shop for “two or three things at a time” (AR 136) and to attend medical appointments (AR 134).

         Bruno has a history of opiate drug abuse. She was admitted to Brattleboro Retreat for a six-day period of detoxification in May 2012 (AR 493-96), but relapsed soon after her discharge (AR 508). She has been convicted of multiple criminal charges, including parole/probation violations, drug charges, and prostitution; and she has had periods of incarceration, her most recent lasting one month. (AR 504, 518.)

         In July 2012, Bruno filed an application for DIB alleging that, starting on July 31, 2009[1], she has been unable to work due to bipolar disorder, depression, and varicose veins. (AR 163, 269.) Her application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, and she timely requested an administrative hearing. The hearing was conducted on April 21, 2014 by Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Thomas Merrill. (AR 129-48.) Bruno appeared and testified, and was represented by an attorney. A vocational expert (VE) also testified at the hearing. On May 6, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Bruno was not disabled under the Social Security Act from her amended alleged disability onset date through the date of the decision. (AR 101-09.) Thereafter, the Appeals Council denied Bruno’s request for review, rendering the ALJ’s decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (AR 1-5.) Having exhausted her administrative remedies, Bruno filed the Complaint in this action on July 15, 2015. (Doc. 1.)

         ALJ Decision

         The Commissioner uses a five-step sequential process to evaluate disability claims. See Butts v. Barnhart, 388 F.3d 377, 380-81 (2d Cir. 2004). The first step requires the ALJ to determine whether the claimant is presently engaging in “substantial gainful activity.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b). If the claimant is not so engaged, step two requires the ALJ to determine whether the claimant has a “severe impairment.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). If the ALJ finds that the claimant has a severe impairment, the third step requires the ALJ to make a determination as to whether that impairment “meets or equals” an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (“the Listings”). 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d). The claimant is presumptively disabled if his or her impairment meets or equals a listed impairment. Ferraris v. Heckler, 728 F.2d 582, 584 (2d Cir. 1984).

         If the claimant is not presumptively disabled, the ALJ is required to determine the claimant’s residual functional capacity (RFC), which means the most the claimant can still do despite his or her mental and physical limitations based on all the relevant medical and other evidence in the record. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 404.1545(a)(1), 416.920(e), 416.945(a)(1). The fourth step requires the ALJ to consider whether the claimant’s RFC precludes the performance of his or her past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(f), 416.920(f). Finally, at the fifth step, the ALJ determines whether the claimant can do “any other work.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g), 416.920(g). The claimant bears the burden of proving his or her case at steps one through four, Butts, 388 F.3d at 383; and at step five, there is a “limited burden shift to the Commissioner” to “show that there is work in the national economy that the claimant can do, ” Poupore v. Astrue, 566 F.3d 303, 306 (2d Cir. 2009) (clarifying that the burden shift to the Commissioner at step five is limited, and the Commissioner “need not provide additional evidence of the claimant’s [RFC]”).

         Employing this sequential analysis, ALJ Merrill first determined that Bruno had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her amended alleged disability onset date of October 23, 2012. (AR 103.) At step two, the ALJ found that Bruno had the severe impairments of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). (Id.) Conversely, the ALJ found that Bruno’s bipolar disorder and varicose veins were not severe. (Id.) Regarding the bipolar disorder, the ALJ explained: “While [Bruno’s] symptoms seem to cause functional limitations, this is attributable to [her] non-compliance with medication to try to obtain disability benefits.” (AR 104 (citing AR 539).) Moreover, the ALJ found that Bruno’s bipolar disorder “causes only mild limitations in functioning.” (AR 104.) At step three, the ALJ found that none of Bruno’s impairments, alone or in combination, met or medically equaled a listed impairment. (AR 106.) Next, the ALJ determined that Bruno had the RFC to perform “medium work, ” as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(c), except “she can only frequently handle objects.” (Id.) Given this RFC, and relying on testimony from the VE, the ALJ found that Bruno was capable of performing her past relevant work as a cashier, a housekeeper, and a mail clerk. (AR 109.) The ALJ concluded that Bruno had not been under a disability from her amended alleged disability onset date of October 23, 2012 through the date of the decision. (Id.)

         Standard of Review

         The Social Security Act defines the term “disability” 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 person will be found disabled only if it is determined that his “impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work[, ] but cannot, considering his age, ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.