Taylor v. Colvin
RULING: For the foregoing reasons, Taylors Motion to Reverse the Decision of the Commissioner (Doc. No. 14 ) is hereby GRANTED and the Commissioners Motion to Affirm the Decision of the Commissioner (Doc. No. 16 ) is hereby DENIED. The case is rema nded to the Social Security Administration for further proceedings consistent with this Ruling. The Clerks Office is instructed that, if any party appeals to this court the decision made after this remand, any subsequent social security appeal is to be assigned to the District Judge who issued the Ruling that remanded the case. Signed by Judge Janet C. Hall on 11/30/2017. (Lewis, D)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF CONNECTICUT
CIVIL ACTION NO.
NANCY E. BERRYHILL,1 ACTING
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL
NOVEMBER 30, 2017
RULING RE: CROSS MOTIONS TO REVERSE AND AFFIRM DECISION OF THE
COMMISSIONER (DOC NOS. 14 & 16)
Plaintiff Shaun Taylor (“Taylor”) brings this action under title 42, section 405(g) of
the United States Code, appealing from the final determination of the Commissioner of
Social Security (“the Commissioner”), which denied his application for Title II disability
insurance benefits and Title XVI supplemental security income. Motion to Reverse the
Decision of the Commissioner (“Pl.’s Mot.”) (Doc. No. 14). The Commissioner crossmoves for an order affirming that Decision. Defendant’s Motion for Judgment on the
Pleadings (“Def.’s Mot.”) (Doc. No. 16).
For the reasons set forth below, the Motion to Reverse the Decision of the
Commissioner is GRANTED, and the Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings is DENIED.
The case is remanded to the ALJ for proceedings consistent with this Ruling.
Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 25(d), Nancy A. Berryhill is hereby substituted as
the defendant in this case, in place of the former Acting Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration, Carolyn W. Colvin. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 25(d) (“An action does not abate when a public
officer who is a party in an official capacity . . . resigns[ ] or otherwise ceases to hold office while the
action is pending. The officer’s successor is automatically substituted as a party.”). The Clerk of Court is
directed to correct the docket to reflect this substituted party.
Taylor first applied for social security disability benefits and supplemental security
income on January 24, 2013. In both applications, Taylor alleged disability beginning
on January 1, 1994.2 Taylor’s applications were denied initially on April 18, 2013, and
upon reconsideration were denied again on August 20, 2013. Taylor then filed a written
request for a hearing on October 7, 2013, and that hearing took place before
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Matthew Kuperstein on March 3, 2015. Taylor was
represented at his hearing by Attorney Robert Reger. During the hearing, Taylor
himself testified, as did his stepfather, William Vandewarker, and a vocational expert,
Joseph Goodman. See Certified Transcript of Record (“R.”) at 41–77 (transcript of
ALJ Kuperstein issued a written decision denying Taylor’s applications on May
27, 2015. Id. at 16–30 (decision). With respect to Taylor’s application for disability
insurance benefits, ALJ Kuperstein found that Taylor had acquired sufficient quarters of
coverage to remain insured through December 31, 2002, which means that, in order to
prove eligibility for disability insurance benefits, Taylor would have to show that he has
been disabled since December 31, 2002. ALJ Kuperstein concluded that Taylor had not
satisfied his burden in that respect. See id. at 20. Taylor does not dispute that finding.
See Plaintiff’s Memorandum (“Pl.’s Mem.”) (Doc. No. 15) at 9.
With respect to Taylor’s application for supplemental income, ALJ Kuperstein
concluded that Taylor was not engaged in substantial gainful activity, and further
Taylor has not provided any explanation for the selection of January 1, 1994, and the record
reflects that this date was selected in error. See R. at 47 (testimony of Taylor that he “must have misread
the paperwork or something and filled it out wrong”).
concluded that Taylor suffered from two severe impairments: bipolar disorder and
intermittent explosive disorder (“IED”). R. at 21–22. Although he considered Taylor’s
claim that he also suffered from anxiety disorder, ALJ Kuperstein concluded that anxiety
disorder was not a severe impairment because “there are few objective findings
concerning the claimant’s anxiety, and there is no evidence that he meets the diagnostic
criteria for an anxiety disorder.” Id. at 22. ALJ Kuperstein found that Taylor’s severe
impairments did not equal the severity of listed impairments under title 20, section 404
of the United States Code.3
With respect to Taylor’s residual functional capacity (“RFC”), ALJ Kuperstein
concluded that Taylor could perform the full range of work at all exertional levels with
the following non-exertional limitations: “he is limited to work that does not involve
interaction with the general public, . . does not require the collaborative efforts of others
to complete work activities,” and “involves understanding, remembering, and carrying
out simple instructions and making simple work-related decisions.” R. at 24.
ALJ Kuperstein concluded that Taylor had no past relevant work. Id. at 28. He
then concluded, based on Goodman’s testimony, that Taylor could perform occupations
such as packer, cleaner, or extrusion operator, id. at 28–29, and that these jobs “exist[ ]
in significant numbers in the national economy,” id. at 30. ALJ Kuperstein concluded
In his Decision, ALJ Kuperstein assessed Taylor’s impairments under listings 12.02 and 12.04.
Listing 12.04 refers to bipolar disorder and similar disorders and was therefore properly considered. IED,
however, should have been assessed under listing 12.08, which articulates the standard for evaluating
personality and impulse-control disorders, as opposed to 12.02, which refers to neurocognitive disorders.
However, ALJ Kuperstein’s factual findings with respect to Taylor’s severe impairments are sufficient to
show that Taylor does not satisfy listing 12.08. Therefore, while ALJ Kuperstein analyzed Taylor’s IED
under the wrong listing, that error was harmless. Cf. Kohler v. Astrue, 546 F.3d 260, 267–68 (2d Cir.
2008) (error in analysis of severity of impairment was not harmless where “the decision contain[ed] no
specific findings” regarding the applicant’s limitations and therefore the reviewing court could not
“determine whether there [was] substantial evidence for the ALJ’s conclusion that Kohler’s impairment,
while severe, was not as severe as any listed disabling condition”).
that Taylor was not disabled and denied his applications in full. Id.
Taylor appealed ALJ Kuperstein’s decision, and the Social Security Appeals
Counsel denied his appeal on November 25, 2016, rendering ALJ Kuperstein’s decision
final and appealable to this court pursuant to title 42, section 405(g) of the United States
Taylor was born in January 1979, making him thirty-eight years old at the time of
this Ruling. He attended school through eleventh grade.4 See R. at 280. Since leaving
school in 1998, Taylor has worked sporadically in various part-time positions, including
food service positions at several restaurants and maintenance work at a laundromat,
and has done construction work for friends and family, but has never held a long-term
job. See id. at 242 (work history form submitted by Taylor); id. at 28 (decision of ALJ
Kuperstein concluding that Taylor has no relevant work experience); id. at 57–58
(testimony of Taylor regarding his lack of work experience).
Taylor’s medical evidence of record begins on October 20, 1999, and reflects
that Taylor was diagnosed with opiate dependency and cannabis abuse. See id. at
607–15. The record reflects that Taylor has not used illicit drugs since at least 2003
when he began taking methadone. See, e.g., id. at 552, 620. Taylor has treated at the
APT Foundation for addiction-related treatment as early as 2003, see id. at 616–61, and
At the hearing, Taylor testified that he only remembered attending school through seventh
grade, but that Attorney Reger had received school records indicating that he had attended school
through the eleventh grade. R. at 53. In Taylor’s application for disability benefits, he recorded his last
grade completed as eighth grade. Id. at 242. The record is further confused by medical records
indicating that Taylor’s highest grade completed was ninth grade, see id. at 617, and tenth grade, see id.
at 613. That said, the court does not consider Taylor’s level of education material to this Ruling and
therefore does not address it other than to note that the record is not clear on this issue.
the record indicates that he has treated regularly at the APT Foundation––including
participating in group and individual therapy and receiving methadone––since at least
2012, see id. at 339–593. Taylor has earned the responsibility to take six bottles of
methadone home with him at a time. See id. at 374, 380, 463.
An intake statement from the APT Foundation dated April 14, 2003, indicates that
Taylor had been diagnosed with anxiety and bi-polar disorder by Dr. Patel at the Foxon
Medical Center. Id. at 618. Treatment notes from the APT Foundation dated May 13,
2003, reflect that Taylor had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and anxiety disorder,
and was reporting “anxiety / panic and uncontrollable anger.” Id. at 632. The treatment
notes generally reflect a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, and they also reflect that Taylor
reports symptoms consistent with social anxiety and generalized anxiety disorder. See
id. at 434–593 (treatment notes from APT Foundation).
Taylor was first diagnosed with IED on October 21, 2013, as reflected in both
treatment notes and a letter authored by Taylor’s treating psychiatrist, Dr. Uzelia LouisJacques. R. at 538 (letter); id. at 577–78 (treatment notes). Subsequent treatment
notes reflect this ongoing diagnosis. See, e.g., id. at 542, 545, 550, 554.
The record contains medical opinion evidence from four sources: treating
psychiatrist Uzelia Louis-Jacques, treating psychiatrist Hassam Jefee-Bahloul, and state
medical consultant psychologists Gregory Hanson and Thomas Hill.5
ALJ Kuperstein gave little weight to all four of the medical source opinions in the record.
Because Taylor does not challenge ALJ Kuperstein’s determination with respect to the state medical
consultants, the court does not address their opinions or ALJ Kuperstein’s decision with respect to their
opinions except to note that the court finds that ALJ Kuperstein’s decision to accord their opinions little
weight is supported by substantial evidence.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Under title 42, section 405(g) of the United States Code, it is not the district
court’s function to determine de novo whether the claimant was disabled. See Schaal v.
Apfel, 134 F.3d 496, 501 (2d Cir. 1998). Instead, the court is limited to two lines of
inquiry: whether the ALJ applied the correct legal standard, and whether the record
contains “substantial evidence” to support his decision. See Rosa v. Callahan, 168 F.3d
72, 77 (2d Cir. 1999). “Substantial evidence” is “more than a mere scintilla. It means
such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quoting Consol. Edison
Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). “To determine on appeal whether an ALJ’s
findings are supported by substantial evidence, a reviewing court considers the whole
record, examining the evidence from both sides, because an analysis of the
substantiality of the evidence must also include that which detracts from its weight.”
Williams on Behalf of Williams v. Bowen, 859 F.2d 255, 258 (2d Cir. 1988).
In his Motion to Reverse, Taylor asserts four bases upon which ALJ Kuperstein’s
decision should be reversed. First, Taylor argues that ALJ Kuperstein failed to give
proper weight to the medical opinions of the two treating physicians who submitted
medical opinions, Dr. Louis-Jacques and Dr. Jefee-Bahloul. Pl.’s Mem. at 12–14.
Second, Taylor argues that ALJ Kuperstein ignored substantial evidence of Taylor’s IED
in making his RFC determination. Id. at 14. Third, Taylor argues that ALJ Kuperstein
erred in giving little weight to the testimony of Taylor’s stepfather. Id. at 14–15. Fourth,
Taylor argues that ALJ Kuperstein’s decision was not supported by substantial
evidence. Id. at 15–16.
In addition, Taylor’s Memorandum suggests he is raising several additional
issues, though he does not expressly style them as claims, including: that ALJ
Kuperstein erred in finding that anxiety disorder is not one of Taylor’s severe
impairments, that ALJ Kuperstein erred in his credibility determination with respect to
Taylor’s testimony, and that ALJ Kuperstein’s RFC determination did not adequately
take into consideration the functional limitations caused by IED. See infra Section V(B).
ALJ Kuperstein Did Not Comply with the Treating Physician Rule
Taylor argues that ALJ Kuperstein failed to properly weigh the opinion testimony
of his treating physicians, Drs. Louis-Jacques and Jefee-Bahloul. Pl.’s Mem. at 13.
Taylor asserts that ALJ Kuperstein cited “no medical evidence” to support his
conclusion, and that he placed too much weight on Taylor’s testimony regarding his
daily activities. Id. Taylor further asserts that the evidence with respect to Taylor’s
activities does not contradict Dr. Louis-Jacques’s assessment and therefore was not a
basis to give little weight to her opinion. Id.
The treating source rule requires that a treating source’s medical opinion be
given controlling weight if 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.” 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(c)(2). Even if controlling weight is
not given, “some weight may still be attached to that opinion, and the ALJ must still
designate and explain the weight that is actually given to the opinion.” Schupp v.
Barnhart, No. 3:02CV103 (WWE), 2004 WL 1660579, at *9 (D. Conn. Mar. 12, 2004);
see also 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(c)(2) (“Generally, we give more weight to medical
opinions from your treating sources, since these sources are likely to be the medical
professionals most able to provide a detailed, longitudinal picture of your medical
impairment(s) and may bring a unique perspective to the medical evidence . . . .”).
When a medical opinion is not given controlling weight, title 20, section 416.927 of the
Code of Federal Regulations (“section 416.927”) mandates that ALJs consider the
following factors in assigning weight to the medical opinion: (1) whether the provider has
actually examined the claimant; (2) the treatment relationship, including the length,
frequency of examination, and nature and extent of the relationship; (3) whether the
provider presents relevant evidence to support his or her conclusions, particularly
objective evidence; (4) the degree to which the provider’s opinion is consistent with the
medical record as a whole; (5) whether the provider is a specialist giving an opinion
within his or her specialty; and (6) any other factors which support or contradict the
provider’s opinion. 20 C.F.R. § 416.927. Section 416.927 further provides, “We will
always give good reasons in our notice of determination or decision for the weight we
give [the] treating source’s medical opinion.”
1. Opinion of Dr. Jefee-Bahloul
In his medical source statement, Dr. Jefee-Bahloul reached the following
conclusions: Taylor was mildly limited in his capacity to understand and remember
simple instructions; moderately limited in his ability to carry out simple instructions and
to make judgments on simple work-related decisions; markedly limited in his capacity to
understand and remember complex instructions; and extremely limited in his ability to
carry out complex instructions and make judgments on complex work-related decisions.
R. at 604. Dr. Jefee-Bahloul noted in this section that “on cognitive testing patient
exhibits significant impairment in concentration when asked to do serial 7’s or spell
WORLD backwards. Also patient has issues w/ memory. Cognitive testing exhibits
impairment in abstract thinking and judgment.” Id. Dr. Jefee-Bahloul further found that
Taylor was markedly limited in his capacity to interact appropriately with the public,
supervisors, or co-workers, and markedly limited in his capacity to “[r]espond
appropriately to usual work situations and to changes in a routine work setting.” Id. at
605. Dr. Jefee-Bahloul noted, “In a previous work situation, patient’s anger, impulsivity
caused him to be aggressive, for example throwing a knife in a kitchen.” Id. Dr. JefeeBahloul also notes, “Given [Taylor’s] concrete thinking process, patient can’t tolerate
any changes in life structure which may lead to exacerbation of mood symptoms.” Id.
In according Dr. Jefee-Bahloul’s opinion little weight, ALJ Kuperstein
acknowledged that Taylor “has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and intermittent
explosive disorder” and “has stated that these problems prevent him from sustaining
attention and concentration for extended periods.” Id. at 27. ALJ Kuperstein further
noted, “Mental status examinations reveal intermittent disturbances in mood and affect,
which likely prevent him from performing complex work activities, as Dr. Jefee-Bahloul
finds.” Id. Despite these findings, ALJ Kuperstein broadly asserted that Dr. JefeeBahloul’s other conclusions are “not consistent with the medical evidence, including his
own treatment notes.” Id. He did not, however, cite to any medical evidence to support
The Commissioner asserts that ALJ Kuperstein’s decision was supported by
medical evidence, albeit evidence that was cited elsewhere in ALJ Kuperstein’s opinion
as opposed to the treating physician opinion analysis. See Defendant’s Memorandum
(“Def.’s Mem.”) (Doc. No. 16-1) at 10. However, the Commissioner has failed to direct
the court to any evidence cited elsewhere that actually does support ALJ Kuperstein’s
decision. For example, the Commissioner argues that Dr. Jefee-Bahloul’s opinion about
Taylor’s ability to interact with the public is contradicted by treatment notes, see
Defendant’s Memoradum at 10–11, but ALJ Kuperstein actually agreed with Dr. JefeeBahloul about this limitation. R. at 27 (“The medical evidences supports the restrictions
Dr. Jefee-Bahloul describes in the claimant’s abilities to perform complex tasks and
interact with the public . . . .”). Therefore, even assuming that the court can treat
evidence cited elsewhere as support for an ALJ’s treating physician determination, the
Commissioner has failed to cite any medical evidence cited elsewhere by ALJ
Kuperstein that supports his decision with respect to treating physician opinion
With respect to Dr. Jefee-Bahloul’s conclusions that Taylor was mildly limited in
his ability to understand and remember simple work instructions and moderately limited
in his ability to carry out simple work tasks and make judgments about simple work
tasks, ALJ Kuperstein found that Taylor’s ability to “prepare simple meals, manage his
own medications, shop, and pay his own bills” implies that Taylor “is less limited . . .
than Dr. Jefee-Bahloul indicates.” Id. However, Dr. Jefee-Bahloul’s conclusions of mild
and moderate limitations in these areas are simply not refuted by Taylor’s daily
activities. On the medical source statement form completed by Dr. Jefee-Bahloul (a
form produced by the Social Security Administration), a “mild” limitation is defined as “a
slight limitation” with which “the individual can generally function well” and a “moderate”
limitation is defined as “more than a slight limitation in this area but the individual is still
able to function satisfactorily.’6 R. at 604. Given that even a moderate limitation allows
for “satisfactor[y]” functioning, Taylor’s quite limited daily activities simply do not
undermine Dr. Jefee-Bahloul’s medical opinion. Cf. Quinones on Behalf of Quinones v.
Chater, 117 F.3d 29, 35 (2d Cir. 1997) (rejecting ALJ’s daily-activities explanation on
the ground that while “these activities suggest that Jennifer is ‘sometimes’ able to
complete simple, age-appropriate tasks, they do not refute [evidence] that Jennifer has
‘constant’ difficulty in completing both simple and complex age-appropriate tasks”).
ALJ Kuperstein also disagreed with Dr. Jefee-Bahloul’s opinion with respect to
Taylor’s ability to “respond to usual work settings and change.” R. at 27. First, ALJ
Kuperstein noted that “the evidence establishes that [Taylor] tolerates life stressors
without an increase in objective mental status abnormalities.” Id. ALJ Kuperstein does
not cite any record evidence to support this statement, nor does he define what an
“objective mental status abnormality” is. Yet, at the hearing, Taylor offered
uncontroverted testimony that he suffers from explosive rage that has led him to, among
other things, put his head through a car window, throw a butcher knife across a kitchen
at work, and challenge a supervisor to a fight. See id. at 61–62. The knife throwing
incident was, as described above, expressly referenced by Dr. Jefee-Bahloul in his
medical source statement. Id. at 605. In addition, outbursts of rage are the defining
features of IED, a condition that ALJ Kuperstein found was a severe impairment in his
In its Memorandum in Support of its Motion to Affirm, the Commissioner characterizes Dr.
Jefee-Bahloul’s opinion as finding that Taylor has “severe mental limitations.” Def.’s Mem. (Doc. No.
16-1) at 11. “Severe” is not one of the options on the form that Dr. Jefee-Bahloul completed, but
presumably a “severe” limitation would be more akin to a marked or extreme limitation than the mild and
moderate limitations that Dr. Jefee-Bahloul identified.
Decision.7 The court therefore concludes that ALJ Kuperstein’s finding that Taylor
“tolerates life stressors without an increase in objective mental status abnormalities” not
only is not supported by substantial evidence but is, in fact, plainly contradicted by the
ALJ Kuperstein disagreed with Dr. Jefee-Bahloul’s opinion that Taylor is
markedly limited in his capacity to interact with coworkers and supervisors on the
ground that Taylor “has friends,8 shops, spends time with family, and gets along well
with treatment providers.” Id. The medical source form that Dr. Jefee-Bahloul
completed defines “marked” limitation as “a substantial loss in the ability to effectively
function.” Id. at 604. As noted above, in support of his findings Dr. Jefee-Bahloul
specifically cited Taylor’s outbursts of rage, including throwing a knife across a kitchen.
Id. at 605. Therefore, the record is clear that Dr. Jefee-Bahloul based his medical
opinion on Taylor’s IED, a medical condition that, as aforementioned, ALJ Kuperstein
found to be a “severe impairment” of Taylor. Dr. Jefee-Bahloul’s opinion that Taylor’s
IED creates marked limitations in his ability to interact with coworkers and supervisors is
therefore not refuted by the fact that Taylor is generally pleasant around treatment
It is also worth noting that ALJ Kuperstein’s decision reflects that he would not have made that
finding lightly. For example, although Taylor asserted that he suffered from anxiety disorder as well as
bipolar disorder and IED, ALJ Kuperstein declined to find that Taylor suffered from anxiety disorder
because “the record must contain medical evidence consisting of signs, symptoms, and laboratory
findings to support” a claimant’s statement that he suffers from a disorder. R. at 22.
Although he does not cite to the record to support his finding that Taylor has friends, ALJ
Kuperstein is presumably relying on the testimony of Taylor’s stepfather, William Vandewarker, whose
testimony is the only evidence that could even arguably support such a finding. Vandewarker testified
that Taylor never has friends over at the house, although he occasionally “associates with some of [his
sister’s] friends, but not on the outside, always inside the house.” R. at 67. When asked whether Taylor
left the house to visit friends, Vandewarker answered, “No, not really. He goes and visits his brother or
whatever, but that’s, that’s about it.” Id. The record, therefore, does not suggest that Taylor has an active
providers, socializes with friends, and has relationships with family members. Indeed,
Taylor has specifically experienced problems in work settings, most notably the knifethrowing incident. See id. at 605.
ALJ Kuperstein not only decided not to give Dr. Jefee-Bahloul’s opinion
controlling weight, but also decided his opinion was entitled to “little weight” overall. Id.
at 27. However, the section 416.927 factors generally militate in favor of giving Dr.
Jefee-Bahloul’s opinion substantial weight. For example, Dr. Jefee-Bahloul was a
treating physician who was seeing Taylor regularly at the time his medical source
statement was completed. See id. at 540–54. As a psychiatrist, Dr. Jefee-Bahloul is a
specialist providing opinions within his area of specialization. See id. at 606. Finally,
Dr. Jefee-Bahloul supported his opinions with references to cognitive testing, Taylor’s
diagnoses, and Taylor’s history. Id. at 604–05.
In sum, the evidence cited by ALJ Kuperstein does not refute Dr. Jefee-Bahloul’s
opinion and therefore does not support ALJ Kuperstein’s decision. The court therefore
concludes that ALJ Kuperstein’s determination that Dr. Jefee-Bahloul’s medical source
statement was not entitled to controlling weight was not supported by substantial
2. Opinion of Dr. Louis-Jacques
Unlike Dr. Jefee-Bahloul, who completed a medical source statement form, Dr.
Louis-Jacques submitted a letter, dated October 21, 2013, containing her opinion of
Taylor’s work-related capacity. R. at 538. In that letter, Dr. Louis-Jacques noted that
she had been Taylor’s treating psychiatrist since August 5, 2013, and that she had
reviewed the treatment notes of Taylor’s former treating psychiatrist, Dr. Teo-Carlo
Straun. Id. Dr. Louis-Jacques then discussed Taylor’s diagnoses:
[I]t is clear [Taylor] has a diagnosis of Bipolar I Disorder which
in the manic and depressive phases does cause significant
impairment from working. However he also has an additional
diagnosis of Intermittent Explosive Disorder. Which can
present itself at any time and is characterized by low
frustration tolerance, impulsivity, an [sic] inappropriate anger /
Id. Dr. Louis-Jacques went on to state that Taylor’s conditions were improving with
treatment, but opined that he should engage in part-time, as opposed to full-time, work
because “the demands of full time work have been shown [sic] exacerbate his mental
illness and could result in an acute deterioration from his present mental status.” Id.
On the subject of Taylor’s capacity to work full-time, treatment notes authored by
Dr. Louis-Jacques provide additional context. For example, in a note dated October 7,
2013, Dr. Louis-Jacques states that Taylor “just fell off roof on Friday” and explains:
When [Taylor] was working on the roof he went into a manic
state and that is why he fell off the roof. He describes manic
states as energy level going up, not focused on things he is
doing, and he feels full throttle like things go full out there for
him, and that his thoughts race and he gets easily irritated and
frustrated if working on shingles or a car he feels like he
cannot stop he will do it until he gets irritated and has to stop
or else he will flip out.
Id. at 578. In addition to the details related to falling off the roof, Dr. Louis-Jacques
notes that Taylor “[h]as put [his] head through a window in the past, [and] has a long
history of fights that were relatively unprovoked.” Id. She also notes that Taylor “has
very abrupt mood changes . . . like a switch.” Id. In another note from a session that
took place on September 23, 2013, Dr. Louis-Jacques states that Taylor “[c]ouldn’t work
before because he was manic having racing thoughts, or other times would be in the
wrong frame of mind, threw a knife into a kitchen while at work because he was
‘manicky’ feels like when he’s kind of manic and then he works he ends up getting edgy
and irritable, he can’t ride a bus and has trouble being around a lot of people.” Id. at
ALJ Kuperstein acknowledged that Dr. Louis-Jacques “treated the claimant for
several years,” but concluded that her opinion “is not consistent with the medical
evidence, which establishes that the claimant is capable of performing work activities on
a regular and continuing basis for the reasons explained above.”9 Id. at 27. It is not
clear what ALJ Kuperstein means by “explained above,” although his analysis with
respect to Dr. Louis-Jacques directly follows his analysis with respect to Dr. JefeeBahloul, so that may be the analysis to which he refers. Upon review of the record as a
whole, the court is aware of no medical evidence that suggests that Taylor is “capable
of performing work activities on a regular and continuing basis,” and he does not
provide any citations to support this conclusion. In fact, the only medical evidence of
record that explicitly refers to Taylor’s capacity to work is the medical opinion evidence
(to which ALJ Kuperstein assigned “little weight”) and the treatment notes by Dr. LouisJacques quoted above.
Assuming that ALJ Kuperstein’s reference “medical evidence” was, in fact,
intended to reference the treatment notes and lay testimony related to Taylor’s daily
activities, the court is unaware of any evidence that Taylor is “capable of performing
work activities on a regular and continuing basis.” Although there is evidence that
Although it is not clear what ALJ Kuperstein means by “performing work activities on a regular
and continuing basis,” the court construes him to mean performing full-time work, given that ALJ
Kuperstein made this finding in the context of supporting his decision to give little weight to Dr. LouisJacques’s opinion that Taylor cannot perform full-time work.
Taylor can perform simple tasks––including going to the gym, preparing simple meals,
shopping, and cleaning––there is no evidence that he can work for eight hours in a row
without becoming manic or frustrated, causing him to have accidents or fly into a rage.
Notably, Dr. Louis-Jacques did not opine that Taylor could not work full-time because he
was incapable of performing basic work tasks, which would be undermined by Taylor’s
ability to engage in activities like meal preparation and shopping, but rather that
sustained periods of work exacerbated his mental health problems. In short, none of
the evidence, medical or otherwise, refutes this opinion of Dr. Louis-Jacques.
ALJ Kuperstein also justifies his decision to give little weight to Dr. LouisJacques’s opinion on the basis that her letter is “vague, and fails to explain specifically
what the claimant remains able to do despite his impairments.” Id. at 27. This criticism
is belied by the plain language of the opinion itself, which does state what Taylor can
do––part-time work, but not full-time work––and provides the diagnoses and symptoms
that inhibit his ability to do full-time work. See R. at 538.
In defense of ALJ Kuperstein’s conclusion, the Commissioner cites section
416.927(a)(1) for the proposition that medical opinions “must reflect judgments about
what a claimant can still do despite his or her impairments.” Def.’s Mem. at 12. Section
416.927(a)(1) defines medical opinions as “statements from acceptable medical
sources that reflect judgments about the nature and severity of your impairment(s),
including your symptoms, diagnosis and prognosis, what you can still do despite
impairment(s), and your physical or mental restrictions.” Section 416.927(a)(1). The
court is not convinced that this provision, which simply defines medical opinions,
mandates that all medical opinion evidence contain all the information listed. In any
event, as stated above, Dr. Louis-Jacques’s letter does state what Taylor “remains able
to do”: part-time work. The court is, therefore, unpersuaded by this argument.
In addition, like Dr. Jefee-Bahloul, the section 416.927 factors tend to show that
Dr. Louis-Jacques’s opinion should have been accorded more than the “little weight”
that ALJ Kuperstein gave it. See R. at 27. Like Dr. Jefee-Bahloul, Dr. Louis-Jacques
was Taylor’s treating physician at the time that she authored her opinion, id. at 538,
and is a psychiatrist opining within her area of specialty, id. at 27. Her opinion is also
supported by her treatment notes and is consistent with the treatment notes and
medical source statement authored by Dr. Jefee-Bahloul. See id. at 555–82 (treatment
notes by Dr. Louis-Jacques); id. at 540–54 (treatment notes by Dr. Jefee-Bahloul); id. at
604–06 (medical source statement by Dr. Jefee-Bahloul).
For the foregoing reasons, the court concludes that ALJ Kuperstein’s decision
with respect to Dr. Louis-Jacques’s opinion was not supported by substantial evidence.
In light of the court’s conclusion that ALJ Kuperstein erred in his application of
the treating physician rule with respect to both Dr. Jefee-Bahloul and Dr. Louis-Jacques,
the court concludes that this case should be remanded to the ALJ to reassess the
opinion evidence consistent with this Ruling. In deciding to remand, the court is
cognizant of the fact that, if “application of the correct legal standard could lead to only
one conclusion,” the court need not remand. See Schaal, 134 F.3d at 504; id. at 505
(remanding because “application of the correct standard does not lead inexorably to a
single conclusion”). It is a close question, in this case, whether remand to the ALJ for
further analysis is appropriate, or merely for calculation of benefits. See Rosa, 168 F.3d
at 83 (“[W]here this Court has had no apparent basis to conclude that a more complete
record might support the Commissioner’s decision, we have opted simply to remand for
calculation of benefits.”). Based on the record currently before the court, the court is of
the view that application of the treating physician rule to the opinions of Dr. JefeeBahloul and Dr. Louis-Jacques are entitled to controlling weight. However, the court
cannot say with certainty “whether further clarification of the record” pursuant to the
court’s Ruling would “alter the weighing of the evidence.” Schaal, 134 F.3d at 504. The
court is mindful of the fact that “[i]t is for the [Social Security Administration], and not this
court, to weigh the conflicting evidence in the record.” Id.
In addition, even if the ALJ determines, on remand, that either or both of Taylor’s
treating physicians is entitled to controlling weight, that does not necessarily mean that
Taylor is disabled. Neither Dr. Louis-Jacques nor Dr. Jefee-Bahloul opined that Taylor
could not do any work. The vocational expert, Joseph Goodman, did testify that
someone with Taylor’s RFC, as described by ALJ Kuperstein in his first hypothetical
(and subsequently reflected in his decision), who had explosive angry outbursts two or
three times per month would be unable to do any work. R. at 74. However, while the
medical opinion evidence of Taylor’s treating physicians suggests that Taylor may have
such outbursts two or three times a month (or more), neither Dr. Louis-Jacques nor Dr.
Jefee-Bahloul explicitly stated as much, and ALJ Kuperstein made no such factual
finding. Therefore, remand is proper both to reweigh the treating physician opinion
evidence and also to apply that evidence to the RFC determination and, consequently,
to the existing vocational evidence or development of additional vocational evidence.
The decision of the Social Security Administration is hereby vacated and this
case is remanded to the Commissioner for further proceedings consistent with this
In light of the court’s decision to remand this case on the issue of the treating
physician evidence, the court need not reach the merits of Taylor’s other claims.
However, having reviewed the record and Taylor’s arguments, as well as the
Commissioner’s responses, the court addresses several additional issues.
As a threshold matter, the court observes that, with the exception of his claim
pursuant to the treating physician rule, Taylor’s Memorandum is rather muddled. For
example, Taylor references his own hearing testimony as support for several of his
arguments, see Pl.’s Mem. at 16, but does not argue that ALJ Kuperstein erred in his
credibility determination of Taylor’s testimony, namely that Taylor’s “symptoms are not
as severe or as limiting as he claims.” R. at 26. Similarly, Taylor asserts that ALJ
Kuperstein erred in failing to consider Goodman’s testimony that Taylor could not do
any work if he had outbursts of anger two to three times per month, but does not make
the argument that ALJ Kuperstein’s RFC determination was incorrect, which this court
considers a necessary prerequisite to challenging the vocational evidence under the
circumstances present in this case. Nevertheless, because this case is being
remanded for further analysis by the ALJ, in the interest of judicial efficiency the court
considers the claims raised by Taylor as well as claims the court has identified upon
review of the record. See Shaw v. Chater, 221 F.3d 126, 131 (2d Cir. 2000) (reviewing
court should “conduct a plenary review of the administrative record to determine if there
is substantial evidence, considering the record as a whole, to support the
Commissioner’s decision and if the correct legal standard have been applied”); cf.
Hubbard v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 6:14-CV-1401(GTS/WBC), 2016 WL 551783, at *4
(N.D.N.Y. Jan. 14, 2016) (examining the record “to determine whether the ALJ applied
the correct legal standards and reached a decision based on substantial evidence”
despite the plaintiff’s failure to file a brief) adopted by 6:14-CV-1401 (GTS/WBC) 2016
WL 590226 (N.D.N.Y. Feb. 11, 2016).
1. ALJ Kuperstein’s Credibility Determination of Taylor’s Testimony
At the hearing, Taylor testified that his outbursts of anger had resulted in him
repeatedly losing jobs.
The last job I did have I ended up getting fired because the
boss said something and I ended up threatening him and I got
fired from that job. And then the last job before that I was
working and I was doing prep cooking and one of the
waitresses got nasty with me and I thought I has something
else but I had a butcher knife and I threw it through the
kitchen, good thing I didn’t stab nobody.
R. at 52. He further testified that, although he had obtained work “maybe a day or two
here and there,” the positions were short-lived because “they just couldn’t tolerate me.”
Id. at 53. Asked whether, in addition to the knife throwing incident, he had had other
issues at work as a result of his anger problems, Taylor responded affirmatively:
When I was working at Friendly’s, I threatened a manager to
go outside I was going to, excuse my language, kick his ass,
but he said, yeah, and then when I went outside he locked the
door so I couldn’t come back in. And there’s been other
instances where just little things here and there somebody
questioned me and I knew I was right, I would get very angry
and just go off the wall. I would scream, yell, throw things,
punch things, I mean.
Id. at 61. Taylor testified that since he had been diagnosed with IED, and received
medication, he suffered from fewer outbursts. However, he testified that he still had
outbursts approximately six or seven times per month. Id. at 62. Taylor also testified
that he does not drive because he is afraid that he would get angry while driving and
hurt someone. Id. at 52.
In his decision, ALJ Kuperstein recognized that Taylor suffers from IED, which
causes these outbursts.10 He also noted that mental status examinations “do
sometimes reveal disturbances in mood and affect.” Id. at 26. Nevertheless, ALJ
Kuperstein concluded that Taylor’s testimony with respect to his limitations was not
“fully support[ed]” by the evidence. Id. In support of this conclusion, ALJ Kuperstein
cited the following medical evidence:
Treatment providers routinely fail to describe deficits in
attention, concentration, or memory during appointments, and
the claimant is often described as “pleasant.” In addition,
while the claimant has received regular treatment for his
impairments, this has been quite conservative. He has not
required any type of intensive inpatient or outpatient care to
help manage his symptoms.
Id. (internal citations omitted). None of this evidence refutes Taylor’s testimony that,
because of his periodic angry outbursts, he is unable to maintain a job.
First of all, with respect to Taylor’s “pleasant” demeanor, IED is––as evidenced
by the name of the disorder alone––defined by intermittent outbursts. Therefore, the
fact that Taylor is frequently described as pleasant by treatment providers does not
refute his own testimony (not to mention the diagnosis of his treating psychiatrists) that
he suffers from intermittent explosions of anger. Cf. Quinones, 117 F.3d at 35
According to the DSM-5, IED is marked by “[r]ecurrent behavioral outbursts” that are “grossly
out of proportion to the provocation or to any precipitating psychosocial stressors,” are neither
premeditated nor committed to achieve some tangible objective, and commonly cause impairment in,
among other things, occupational functioning. Am. Psychiatric Ass’n, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of
Mental Disorders (5th ed. 2013).
(evidence of plaintiff’s “intelligence, imagination, social skills, bright demeanor, and
maturity” was “simply irrelevant” to plaintiff’s “concentration, persistence, and pace”).
Second, the bare fact that Taylor’s treatment has not involved “intensive inpatient
or outpatient care” does not mean Taylor is not disabled. As a threshold matter,
Taylor’s medical record reflects that he takes three different medications––Depakote,
Trazodone, and Valium––to treat his mental health issues (in addition to methadone),
and participates in prescribed psychotherapy. See R. at 540–92 (treatment notes by
Drs. Louis-Jacques and Jefee-Bahloul). Psychiatrists have also recommended
individual and group therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and acupuncture. See, e.g.,
id. at 586. The court is skeptical that this treatment regimen can reasonably be termed
“conservative.” However, even assuming that Taylor’s treatment regimen is
conservative, neither ALJ Kuperstein nor the court has sufficient information to infer
from that that Taylor’s testimony lacks credibility. See Burgess v. Astrue, 537 F.3d 117,
129 (2d Cir. 2008) (conservative treatment regimen did not contradict physician’s
opinion that claimant was disabled); Shaw v. Chater, 221 F.3d 126, 134 (2d Cir. 2000)
(district court and ALJ erred in “impos[ing] their notion that the severity of a physical
impairment directly correlates with the intrusiveness of the medical treatment ordered”).
For instance, the record does not contain any evidence regarding the normal course of
treatment for IED, whether intensive inpatient or outpatient treatment is common or
recommended, or even whether the condition can be treated at all. Thus, the record
does not support an inference that the absence of intensive in- or outpatient treatment
suggests that Taylor is overstating the severity of his symptoms.
In support of his credibility determination, ALJ Kuperstein also cites Taylor’s daily
activities, including that “he is able to care for his personal needs, prepare simple
meals, shop, pay his own bills, spend time with friends and family, and handle his own
methadone treatment.” R. at 26. ALJ Kuperstein also notes that, as treatment records
reflect, Taylor “goes to the gym regularly, cleans the house, has held several part time
jobs, and does construction work for his friends and family.” Id. However, these daily
activities simply do not refute Taylor’s testimony that, because he sporadically explodes
in rage, he cannot maintain a full-time job.
Of these activities the only ones that even remotely suggest that Taylor may be
overstating the impact of IED are that he “spends time with friends and family,” that he
“goes to the gym regularly,” and that he “has held several part time jobs.” Yet none of
these can bear the weight that ALJ Kuperstein places on them. As the Commissioner
acknowledges in its Memorandum, Defendant’s Memorandum at 12, the “friends” to
which ALJ Kuperstein refers are, in fact, Taylor’s sister’s friends, with whom Taylor
occasionally socializes when they are at his house. R. at 67; see supra note 8. As for
Taylor’s family relationships, it ought to go without saying that family members––
particularly immediate family members––are likely to understand and forgive much
more than an employer would.
Although Taylor’s treatment notes do reflect that he goes to the gym with some
regularity, that, too, does not undermine his testimony that he is unable to hold a job
because of his explosive outbursts. First, there is no reason to believe that Taylor
spends all day at the gym, comparable to a full-time job. In light of the medical opinion
evidence that full-time work exacerbates Taylor’s mental health status, see R. at 538,
that distinction is significant. Furthermore, unlike in a work setting where Taylor would
have to interact with supervisors and coworkers, exercising ordinarily does not require
taking orders, building relationships, or resolving conflicts.11 To the extent that
exercising at a gym requires interacting with others appropriately, the social demands of
a gym are much lower than in a work setting. Finally, the record is devoid of evidence
as to Taylor’s ability to act appropriately at the gym. It may be that Taylor has suffered
outbursts at the gym but has nevertheless been permitted to return, or that he has
suffered outbursts and not been permitted to return. In short, going to the gym cannot
be equated to holding a full-time job, and that activity evidence therefore does not
undermine Taylor’s testimony.
With respect to ALJ Kuperstein’s assertion that Taylor “has held several part time
jobs,” the record reflects that Taylor has been hired into part time jobs at various points
in his adulthood, but has not retained any of those positions. For example, his earnings
summary reflects that between 2003 and 2013, Taylor earned money in only 2011, and
then only earned $531.25. Id. at 222. His best earning year was 2000––which was,
notably, more than a decade before he was diagnosed with IED––and even then he
earned only $4,571.14. Id. Taylor’s testimony was entirely consistent with this part-time
work history, and ALJ Kuperstein did not cite any evidence to the contrary.
For the foregoing reasons, the court concludes that ALJ Kuperstein’s credibility
determination with respect to Taylor was not supported by substantial evidence.
2. ALJ Kuperstein’s Credibility Determination of Vandewarker’s
Taylor’s stepfather, William Vandewarker, who has lived with Taylor since Taylor
While membership on a sports team or work with a personal trainer may make such demands,
there is no evidence that Taylor is engaged in these activities.
was nine years old, testified to Taylor’s anger problems as well. Vandewarker
estimated that he observes Taylor’s angry outbursts approximately “three or four times
in a month.” Id. at 70. He testified that when Taylor gets angry “he’ll throw something
or he’ll hit something.” Id. at 71. Vandewarker testified that he has “seen [Taylor]
punch walls, punch doors and when he’s in, when he’s in a case like that it’s, it’s quite
difficult to calm him down.” Id.
ALJ Kuperstein did not credit Vandewarker’s testimony, for the same reasons
that he did not credit Taylor’s testimony. Id. at 26. For the same reasons cited with
respect to Taylor’s testimony, the record evidence does not conflict with Vandewarker’s
testimony, and therefore does not constitute substantial evidence to support ALJ
Kuperstein’s credibility determination with respect to Vandewarker.
ALJ Kuperstein also cited two additional reasons to discredit Vandewarker’s
testimony: (1) Vandewarker “is not medically trained to make exacting observations as
to dates, frequencies, types, and degrees of medical signs and symptoms, or of the
frequency or intensity of unusual moods or mannerisms” and (2) “by virtue of their [sic]
relationship with the claimant, he cannot be considered a disinterested third party
witness whose testimony would not tend to be colored by affection for the claimant.” Id.
With respect to Vandewarker’s lack of medical training, Taylor argues in his
Memorandum that it is error to discredit lay testimony on the basis that the witness lacks
medical training. See Pl.’s Mem. at 15. The court agrees with Taylor that
Vandewarker’s testimony, which reflected his own observations from living with Taylor,
is not diminished by his lack of medical expertise. See Singletary v. Sec’y of Health,
Ed. & Welfare, 623 F.2d 217, 219 (2d Cir. 1980) (holding that it was error for ALJ to
reject testimony of claimant’s son on the ground that the son “is not a doctor”).
With respect to ALJ Kuperstein’s finding that Vandewarker’s testimony was
“colored by affection for the claimant,” the court concludes that this explanation does not
constitute substantial evidence upon which to discount Vandewarker’s testimony. Lay
testimony by corroborating witnesses is welcomed by the Social Security regulations
and interpreting case law. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.913(4); Lopez v. Sec’y of Dept. of
Health & Human Servs., 728 F.2d 148, 150 (2d Cir. 1984) (ALJ erred in failing to take
testimony of lay witness who “apparently has regular contact with appellant” and “could
have provided effective testimony about appellant’s inability to function on a daily
basis”). The Ninth Circuit has gone so far as to hold that corroborating lay witness
testimony cannot be rejected on the basis that the witness is a family member. See
Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1289 (9th Cir. 1996). Although the Second Circuit has
not adopted a per se rule on this issue as the Ninth Circuit has, the Second Circuit has
routinely treated family member testimony as valuable evidence. See e.g., Williams,
859 F.2d at 261; Singletary, 623 F.2d at 219. Given that the claimants themselves
generally have the largest incentive to overstate the symptoms of a condition, it makes
little sense to accept claimant testimony but reject testimony of claimants’ family
members on that basis.
That is not to say that, had ALJ Kuperstein otherwise found Vandewarker’s
testimony incredible, he could not have attributed that to Vandewarker’s relationship
with Taylor. See Singletary, 623 F.2d at 219 (acknowledging that “possible bias” of
claimant’s son “is undoubtedly a factor which would go to the weight of the son’s
testimony”). Rather, where, as here, a lay witness testifies to his personal experience
with symptoms that are consistent with the claimant’s diagnosis and the opinions of his
treating physicians, the mere fact that Vandewarker cares about his stepson does not
constitute substantial evidence upon which to reject his testimony. See Williams, 859
F.2d at 261 (holding that ALJ erred in failing to consider lay testimony where “the
subjective testimony of pain and disability given by claimant and her mother is
consistent with the objective medical facts and the experts’ opinions”). If it was ALJ
Kuperstein’s intent, in citing Vandewarker’s relationship with Taylor, to corroborate a
finding of bias on other grounds than those stated in his opinion, he failed to provide
adequate information for the reviewing court. See id. at 260–61 (“A finding that a
witness is not credible must . . . be set forth with sufficient specificity to permit plenary
review of the record.”). Having concluded that ALJ Kuperstein’s other explanations for
his rejection of Vandewarker’s testimony do not support that decision, the court finds
that Vandewarker’s relationship with Taylor alone does not constitute substantial
In sum, while ALJ Kuperstein provided several reasons for his decision to give
Vandewarker’s testimony “little weight,” this decision was nevertheless not supported by
3. Physician Opinion and Lay Testimony Evidence Is Relevant to RFC
In making his RFC determination, ALJ Kuperstein took Taylor’s IED into account
by finding that Taylor could not do work that involves “interaction with the general
public” or work that “require[s] the collaborative efforts of others to complete work
activities.” R. at 24. ALJ Kuperstein did not, however, factor in Dr. Jefee-Bahloul’s
opinion that Taylor has marked limitations in interacting with coworkers or supervisors,
Dr. Louis-Jacques’s opinion that working full-time would exacerbate Taylor’s mental
health status, Taylor’s testimony regarding his being fired for explosive outbursts, or
Vandewarker’s testimony about the kind of destructive behavior that Taylor engages in
during his angry outbursts. All of that evidence is relevant to Taylor’s nonexertional
limitations. Rosa, 168 F.3d at 78 n.2 (“A nonexertional limitation is one imposed by the
claimant’s impairments that affect [his] ability to meet the requirements of jobs other
than strength demands . . . .”). ALJ Kuperstein should, therefore, revisit his RFC
determination alongside revisiting his analysis of the medical opinion evidence and the
4. RFC Determination Is Relevant to Vocational Expert Testimony
At Taylor’s hearing, vocational expert Joseph Goodman (“Goodman”) testified.
ALJ Kuperstein asked Goodman two hypothetical questions. First, ALJ Kuperstein
asked Goodman what work could be done by an individual who is “limited to work that
does not involve any interaction with . . . the general public and does not require the
collaborative efforts of others in completing work activities” as well as “limited to work
that involves understanding, remember and carrying out simple instructions and then
making simple work related decisions.” R. at 72. Goodman replied that such an
individual would be able to perform positions such as packer, cleaner, and extrusion
operator. Id. at 73. ALJ Kuperstein then inquired as to whether those positions could
be performed by someone who needed to be off task for more than ten percent of an
eight-hour work day. Goodman answered that someone who needed to be off-task for
more than ten percent of a workday “would be precluded from all work.” Id.
After ALJ Kuperstein concluded his questions for Goodman, Attorney Reger
asked Goodman to clarify whether someone in the positions he listed would have
contact with supervisors, to which Goodman replied affirmatively. Id. at 74. Then
Attorney Reger asked Goodman whether someone who has “explosive outbursts where
he might throw things, swear at people, completely lose his temper” two or three times
per month could do any of the positions listed. Id. Goodman responded, “It’s not in the
DOT but my opinion based on work in the field would say, no, this person would be
unable to maintain any work.” Id.
In his written Decision, ALJ Kuperstein relied on Goodman’s testimony to find
that “there are jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the
claimant can perform.” Id. at 28. In so doing, he cited Goodman’s response to his first
hypothetical that, given Taylor’s RFC as defined by ALJ Kuperstein, Taylor could be a
packer, a cleaner, or an extrusion operator. Id. ALJ Kuperstein did not mention
Goodman’s testimony that, if Taylor had two or three explosive outbursts per month,
Taylor “would be unable to maintain any work.”
Taylor’s Memorandum suggests that it was error for ALJ Kuperstein not to
consider Goodman’s testimony about the lack of available jobs for someone with
Taylor’s RFC who also suffered from explosive outbursts two or three times per month.
“An ALJ may rely on a vocational expert’s testimony regarding a hypothetical as long as
the facts of the hypothetical are based on substantial evidence, and accurately reflect
the limitations and capabilities of the claimant involved.” Calabrese v. Astrue, 358 Fed.
App’x 274, 276 (2d Cir. 2009). However, “[t]he vocational expert’s testimony is only
useful if it addresses whether the particular claimant, with his limitations and
capabilities, can realistically perform a particular job.” Aubeauf v. Schweiker, 649 F.2d
107, 114 (2d Cir. 1981). Although a hypothetical “need not frame the claimant’s
impairments in the specific diagnostic terms used in the medical reports,” it nevertheless
must “capture the concrete consequences of those impairments.” Calabrese, 358 Fed.
App’x at 277 (quoting England v. Astrue, 490 F.3d 1017, 1023 (8th Cir. 2007)).
The court has concluded that ALJ Kuperstein erred in his analysis of the treating
physician opinion evidence and the lay testimony of Taylor and Vandewarker. All of that
evidence is relevant to the RFC determination, which, in turn, is relevant to the
availability of jobs. Therefore, if the RFC determination changes on remand, the ALJ
should also revisit the evidence with respect to available jobs and gather additional
evidence on the subject if needed.
5. Treatment Notes Alone Could Be “Substantial Evidence”
Taylor argues that ALJ Kuperstein’s Decision was not supported by substantial
evidence because “[h]e gave little weight to the opinions of the treating physicians; he
gave very little weight to the opinions of the State Examiners; he gave little weight to the
‘opinion’ of the lay witness; he found the testimony of the plaintiff to be less than
credible; and he ignored the inconvenient testimony of the VE that displays of explosive
behavior in the work place would eliminate all employment.” Pl.’s Mem. at 15–16.
Taylor cited no authority to support this argument, and the court is aware of none.
Although the court has taken issue with the substance of much of ALJ
Kuperstein’s analysis, from a procedural perspective the law is clear that ALJ
Kuperstein’s decision could be supported by substantial evidence based on treatment
notes alone. See Monroe v. Comm’r of Social Sec., 676 Fed. App’x 5, 8–9 (2d Cir.
2017) (“Because the ALJ reached her RFC determination based on Dr. Wolkoff’s
contemporaneous treatment notes––while at the same time rejecting his post hoc
medical opinion ostensibly based on the observations memorialized in those notes––
that determination was adequately supported by more than a mere scintilla of
evidence.”); Tankisi v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 521 Fed. App’x 29, 34 (2d Cir. 2013)
(extensive medical record was sufficient to support ALJ’s RFC determination despite
lack of formal opinion evidence from treating physician). The court therefore disagrees
with Taylor’s contention that, purely by virtue of having rejected the medical opinion and
lay witness evidence in the record, ALJ Kuperstein’s opinion could not be supported by
6. ALJ Kuperstein’s Finding Re: Anxiety Disorder Was Supported by
In his Memorandum, Taylor states that ALJ Kuperstein’s “omission of anxiety
disorder from the list of severe impairments is troubling, as it’s been documented by the
clinical notes for years.” Pl.’s Mem. at 9. Taylor also lists anxiety disorder as one of
Taylor’s severe impairments in his proposed stipulation of facts. Id. at 17. Those two
references are the extent of Taylor’s argument on this issue.
Given that it is not clear what argument Taylor is raising, and that Taylor has
provided no support for it, the court reaches this issue only to note that ALJ Kuperstein’s
determination with respect to anxiety disorder appears to be supported by substantial
evidence. For example, neither Dr. Louis-Jacques nor Dr. Jefee-Bahloul reference
anxiety disorder in their medical opinion statements. Id. at 538; 604–06. While Taylor
is correct that treatment notes reflect that Taylor has experienced anxiety for years, ALJ
Kuperstein’s Decision regarding anxiety disorder was nevertheless supported by more
than a mere scintilla of evidence.
For the foregoing reasons, Taylor’s Motion to Reverse the Decision of the
Commissioner (Doc. No. 14) is hereby GRANTED and the Commissioner’s Motion to
Affirm the Decision of the Commissioner (Doc. No. 16) is hereby DENIED. The case is
remanded to the Social Security Administration for further proceedings consistent with
this Ruling. The Clerk’s Office is instructed that, if any party appeals to this court the
decision made after this remand, any subsequent social security appeal is to be
assigned to the District Judge who issued the Ruling that remanded the case.
Dated at New Haven, Connecticut this 30th day of November, 2017.
/s/ Janet C. Hall
Janet C. Hall
United States District Judge
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