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Lavoie v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

December 28, 2015

Jennifer Louise Lavoie
v.
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner, U.S. Social Security Administration Opinion No. 2015 DNH 236

Raymond J. Kelly, Esq.

Robert J. Rabuck, Esq.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Paul Barbadoro United States District Judge

Jennifer Louise Lavoie is a forty-one year old woman from Warner, New Hampshire who previously worked as an automobile mechanic, heavy equipment operator, office helper, and store clerk. Lavoie applied for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and supplemental security income (“SSI”) in March 2006, alleging disability due to degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, obesity, and depression. In June 2013, an Administrative Law Judge issued a written decision finding that Lavoie was not disabled. Here, Lavoie challenges the Social Security Administration’s denial of her claims. The Social Security Commissioner, in turns, seeks to have the ruling affirmed.

I. BACKGROUND

Pursuant to Local Rule 9.1, the parties have submitted a joint statement of stipulated facts (Doc. No. 11). See LR 9.1. That joint statement is part of the court’s record, and I need not recount it here. I discuss facts relevant to the disposition of this matter as necessary below.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

In accordance with 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), I have the authority to review the administrative record and the pleadings submitted by the parties, and to enter a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the final decision of the Commissioner. That review is limited, however, “to determining whether the [Administrative Law Judge] used the proper legal standards and found facts [based] upon the proper quantum of evidence.” Ward v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 211 F.3d 652, 655 (1st Cir. 2000). I defer to the Administrative Law Judge’s (ALJ’s) findings of fact, so long as those findings are supported by substantial evidence. Id. Substantial evidence exists “‘if a reasonable mind, reviewing the evidence in the record as a whole, could accept it as adequate to support his conclusion.’” Irlanda Ortiz v. Sec’y of Health & Human Servs., 955 F.2d 765, 769 (1st Cir. 1991) (per curiam) (quoting Rodriguez v. Sec’y of Health & Human Servs., 647 F.2d 218, 222 (1st Cir. 1981)).

If the substantial evidence standard is met, the ALJ’s factual findings are conclusive, even where the record “arguably could support a different conclusion.” Id. at 770. Findings are not conclusive, however, if the ALJ derived his findings by “ignoring evidence, misapplying the law, or judging matters entrusted to experts.” Nguyen v. Chater, 172 F.3d 31, 35 (1st Cir. 1999) (per curiam). The ALJ is responsible for determining issues of credibility and for drawing inferences from evidence in the record. Irlanda Ortiz, 955 F.2d at 769. It is the role of the ALJ, not the court, to resolve conflicts in the evidence. Id.

III. ANALYSIS

Lavoie filed claims for DIB and SSI in March 2012, alleging disability as of August 2009. Doc. No. 11 at 1. She later amended her alleged onset date to October 29, 2011. Id. After her claims were initially denied, a hearing was held before an ALJ in May 2013. Id. The ALJ issued a written decision in June 2013, concluding that Lavoie was not disabled. Id.

In his decision, the ALJ evaluated Lavoie’s claims under the five step process described in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4) and 416.920(a)(4). The ALJ found at step one that Lavoie had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since October 29, 2011, her amended alleged onset date. Tr. at 14. At step two, the ALJ determined that Lavoie had severe impairments of degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, obesity, and depression. Tr. at 14. At step three, the ALJ found that Lavoie’s impairments did not meet or equal any of the listed impairments. Tr. at 14-16. The ALJ then concluded at step five that Lavoie had the residual functional capacity to perform jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national economy. Tr. at 22-23. The ALJ accordingly found that Lavoie was not disabled.

In August 2014, the Appeals Council denied Lavoie’s request to review the ALJ’s decision. Tr. at 2-7. As such, the ALJ’s decision constitutes the Commissioner’s final decision, and this matter is now ripe for judicial review.

Lavoie argues that a remand is required because (1) the ALJ erred in evaluating Lavoie’s credibility and subjective complaints, (2) the ALJ improperly afforded little weight to the opinion of Lavoie’s treating physician, (3) Lavoie’s assessed residual functional capacity is not supported by substantial evidence, and (4) the Commissioner failed to meet his burden at step five. Doc. No. 9 at 1. For the reasons explained below, I conclude that the ALJ erred in ...


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