United States District Court, D. New Hampshire
JOSEPH DiCLERICO, Jr., District Judge.
Donna Lennon seeks judicial review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), of the decision of the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, denying her application for social security disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. In support, Lennon argues that the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") erred in determining the onset date of her disability and erred in his residual functional capacity assessment. The Acting Commissioner moves to affirm.
Standard of Review
In reviewing the final decision of the Acting Commissioner in a social security case, the court "is limited to determining whether the ALJ deployed the proper legal standards and found facts upon the proper quantum of evidence." Nguyen v. Chater, 172 F.3d 31, 35 (1st Cir. 1999); accord Seavey v. Barnhart, 276 F.3d 1, 9 (1st Cir. 2001). The court defers to the ALJ's factual findings as long as they are supported by substantial evidence. § 405(g). "Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Astralis Condo. Ass'n v. Sec'y Dep't of Housing & Urban Dev., 620 F.3d 62, 66 (1st Cir. 2010).
Lennon applied for social security benefits in May of 2012, alleging a disability since May 1, 2006. She was forty-two years old in 2006 at the time she alleges she became disabled. She has a high school education and has worked as a part-time bookkeeper and secretary.
In 2006, Lennon was treated for hip pain and occasionally took Vicodin for pain. A bone scan in August of 2007 showed areas of arthritis and some degenerative changes in her lower lumbar spine. At her yearly examination in November of 2009, Lennon reported that she was exercising and active, although she had joint pain that she attributed to arthritis. A year later, Lennon complained of constant chronic joint pain. She was referred to a pain clinic where she was prescribed Percocet.
After experiencing chest pains, Lennon was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in June of 2011. A CT scan of her hip in September of 2011 showed no change since June. Lennon continued to have hip pain and pain in other joints. She began taking Flurbiprofen as her providers wanted her to reduce the use of narcotic medication.
In August of 2012, Jonathan Jaffe, M.D., reviewed Lennon's records for the initial disability determination. Dr. Jaffe found that Lennon's physical ability was at the light exertional level with some postural limitations.
In September of 2012, Lennon, who is a smoker, was diagnosed with emphysema, and she began treatment for emphysema and depression. Lennon also reported pain in her hips, hands, knees, and ankle but also reported that she was not taking Flurbiprofen. She was prescribed Cymbalta for depression and Lorazepam for anxiety. By April of 2013, Lennon's depression and anxiety had improved and were stable.
An administrative hearing was held in August of 2013. Lennon chose to proceed without an attorney representing her. Lennon said that she was unable to work because of osteoarthritis and difficulty with depression and anxiety. Lennon also noted that she had been injured in a car accident in 1978 or 1979.
Explaining the reason for her alleged disability, Lennon said that she could not sit or stand for long periods, that she ached all of the time, and that her depression was overwhelming her. She also said that she lived with her seventeen year old daughter, was able to drive and shop, and could prepare meals. A vocational expert testified about jobs Lennon could do.
The ALJ concluded that Lennon had severe impairments due to osteoarthritis but that her depression and anxiety did not cause more than minimal limitations. He found that she retained the residual functional capacity to do light work with a sit or stand option, with some postural limitations, and some limitations on repetitively using her hands. Based on that functional ...