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Gammon v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

January 6, 2016

Kathleen Elizabeth Gammon
v.
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner, U.S. Social Security Administration

Eddy Pierre Pierre, Esq.

Brenda Golden Hallisey, Esq.

Michael McCormack, Esq.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Paul Barbadoro United States District Judge

Kathleen Elizabeth Gammon, a 51-year old Grafton woman, challenges the Social Security Administration’s denial of her claims for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). The Acting Commissioner, in turn, moves for an order affirming her decision. For the reasons that follow, I reverse the decision of the Acting Commissioner and remand for further administrative proceedings.

I. BACKGROUND

In accordance with Local Rule 9.1, the parties have submitted a joint statement of stipulated facts (Doc. No. 14). See LR 9.1. Because that joint statement is part of the court’s record, I need not recount it here. I discuss facts relevant to the disposition of this matter as necessary below.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), I have the authority to review the pleadings submitted by the parties and the administrative record, 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

Gammon is a 51-year old former waitress from Grafton, NH, with a history of anxiety. She filed an application for DIB in March 2012, claiming disability as of April 1, 1993, her alleged onset date. Doc. No. 14 at 1. After her application was initially denied, a hearing was held before ALJ Ruth Kleinfeld. Id. Following that hearing, the ALJ issued a written decision in May 2013 concluding that Gammon was not entitled to DIB because her disability did not begin prior to December 31, 1998, her date last insured. See Tr. at 23-31 (ALJ’s written decision).

The ALJ focused her analysis on whether Gammon was disabled prior to her date last insured. At step one, the ALJ found that Gammon had not engaged in substantial gainful activity between the alleged onset date of her disability and her date last insured. Tr. at 25. At step two, the ALJ determined that Gammon suffered from anxiety during that period, which the ALJ considered a “severe” impairment for “the purposes of this decision.” Tr. at 25. At step three, however, the ALJ found that Gammon’s anxiety did not meet or medically equal the criteria of listing 12.06, which covers anxiety-related disorders. Tr. at 26-27. The ALJ then assessed Gammon’s Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”), concluding that Gammon could “perform work at all exertional levels involving work at a socially isolated work station and avoiding work with the general public.” Tr. at 27. Jumping to step five, the ALJ noted that Gammon suffered only a “non-exertional impairment, ” anxiety. Tr. at 30. Without calling a vocational expert, the ALJ then used the Medical-Vocational Guidelines (the “Grid”) to conclude that jobs existed in the national economy that Gammon could perform given her limitations. Tr. at 30-31. As such, according to the ALJ, Gammon was “not disabled.”[1] Tr. at 31.

In September 2014, the Appeals Council denied Gammon’s request for review. Tr. at 1. As a result, the ALJ’s decision constitutes the Commission’s final decision, ...


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