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Bruno v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

December 15, 2017

Steven Bruno, Plaintiff,
v.
Carolyn W. Colvin, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM & ORDER

          Nathaniel M. Gorton United States District Judge

         Steven Bruno (“Bruno” or “petitioner”) filed this action appealing the denial of his application for disability benefits against Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“the Commissioner” or “respondent”). He claims he was improperly denied Disability Insurance Benefits because the decision of the presiding Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) was erroneous and not supported by substantial evidence.

         Pending before the Court are petitioner's motion for judgment on the pleadings to reverse the Commissioner's decision, petitioner's renewed motion for judgment on the pleadings to reverse the Commissioner's decision and respondent's motion for an order affirming her decision. For the reasons that follow, petitioner's motions to reverse the Commissioner's decision will be denied and the Commissioner's motion to affirm will be allowed.

         I. Background

         A. Employment History and Alleged Disability

         Bruno was 50 years old on his alleged “onset” date of June 1, 2008. He alleges disability due to blindness in his right eye, osteoarthritis in his left hip, a dislocated shoulder and a partially herniated disc in his lumbar spine. Bruno has employment experience as an equipment salesperson, inside salesperson and telephone solicitor. He was laid off from work in May, 2008.

         Bruno has been treated for complex retinal detachment since 2005, which has led to the permanent loss of vision in his right eye. In January, 2011, Michael B. Raizman, M.D. noted that Bruno's left eye was healthy but that he needed to wear glasses. Bruno has testified that the acuity and depth perception in his left eye are gone and that he has floaters in his left eye that appear to be an impending posterior vitreous detachment. He was also diagnosed with cataracts in his left eye.

         Starting in 2009, Bruno visited Lawrence M. Specht, M.D. with complaints of left anterior hip pain with activities and some radiculopathy to this left foot. X-rays of his left hip revealed degenerative disc disease bilaterally in the hip joints. Bruno continued to complain of hip pain during doctor visits in 2011 and 2012, but stated that he did not want to pursue total hip arthroplasty. In March, 2014, an x-ray of Bruno's left hip showed extensive degenerative changes in the left femoral head and slight degenerative changes in the right femoral head.

         In May, 2011, Bruno suffered a left AC shoulder joint separation. A few months later on examination, he had near-full active range of motion of that shoulder.

         Bruno asserts that because of his physical health problems as of June 1, 2008, he could no longer work and his disability extended to December 31, 2013, the date last insured.

         B. Procedural Background

         On May 19, 2010, Bruno filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (“the Act”) in which he alleges that he is disabled because of the ailments described above. On March 4, 2011, the Commissioner denied his claim and the following June his claim was denied again after reconsideration.

         Bruno filed a request for a hearing on April 18, 2012. A hearing was held before ALJ Paul M. Murphy. Bruno was represented by counsel. The ALJ found that Bruno was not disabled as defined by 42 U.S.C. § 1381 of the Act as of his date last insured. Bruno filed a timely request for review with the Appeals Council. He claimed that the ALJ's decision was flawed because it disregarded the left shoulder impairment, was inadequate regarding the left hip surgery and was unclear about whether Bruno's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) would allow him to return to past relevant work using the computer “constantly”.

         On June 13, 2013, the Appeals Council remanded the case to the ALJ for a new hearing and decision. In its remand order, the Appeals Council directed the ALJ to consider further Bruno's alleged left shoulder impairment given new and material evidence, as well as to clarify the testimony of the vocational expert (“VE”) regarding Bruno's ability to return to past relevant work as generally performed given his RFC. A supplemental hearing was held on October 15, 2014, by ALJ William Ramsey at which an impartial VE and Bruno, represented by counsel, both appeared and testified. On November 7, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Bruno was not disabled as defined by 42 U.S.C. § 1381 of the Act.

         C. Legal Standard

         To obtain benefits under § 1602 of the Act, an individual must demonstrate that he is unable

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 ...

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