United States District Court, D. New Hampshire
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Barbadoro United States District Judge.
Lavoie is a forty-four year old woman with a history of
numerous impairments, including fibromyalgia, major
depressive disorder, anxiety, carpal tunnel syndrome,
breathing-related disorders, and headaches. Lavoie previously
worked as a bus driver, bus monitor, cashier, crossing guard,
and babysitter. Here, Lavoie challenges the Social Security
Administration's denial of her claim for disability
insurance benefits. The Social Security Commissioner, in
turn, seeks to have the ruling affirmed.
accordance with Local Rule 9.1, the parties have submitted a
joint statement of stipulated facts (Doc. No. 17).
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.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
to 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 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)).
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 (1stCir. 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
filed for disability insurance benefits in June 2011,
alleging disability as of June 10, 2011. Doc. No. 17
at 1. After her application was initially denied, a hearing
was held before an administrative law judge ("ALJ")
in April 2013. Id. The ALJ denied Lavoie's
application in July 2013. Id. After an appeal,
however, the Appeals Council remanded Lavoie's case in
November 2013. Id. The ALJ held a second hearing in
May 2014, but again denied Lavoie's application.
Id. In July 2014, after another appeal, the Appeals
Council remanded the matter a second time. Id. A
different ALJ held another hearing in December 2014, at which
Lavoie, Lavoie's husband, a medical expert, and a
vocational expert testified. The ALJ then issued a written
decision, concluding that Lavoie was not disabled. Tr. at
60-77 (the ALJ's decision).
written decision, the ALJ evaluated Lavoie's claims under
the five step process outlined in 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4). At step one, the ALJ found that Lavoie had
not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 10,
2011, her alleged onset date. Tr. at 62. The ALJ determined
at step two that Lavoie had severe impairments of
fibromyalgia, diabetes mellitus, left carpal tunnel syndrome,
breathing-related disorder, and headaches, but also concluded
that Lavoie's major depressive disorder was not a severe
impairment. Tr. at 62-63. At step three, the ALJ found that
Lavoie's impairments did not meet or equal any of the
listed impairments. Tr. at 65-66. Then, after calculating
Lavoie's residual functional capacity, the ALJ determined
at step five that Lavoie was able to perform jobs that exist
in significant numbers in the national economy. Tr. at 66-67,
76-77. The ALJ therefore concluded that Lavoie was not
disabled. Tr. at 77.
2015, the Appeals Council denied Lavoie's request to
review the ALJ's decision. Tr. at 1. 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 for four principal
reasons: (1) the ALJ did not properly analyze her depression,
(2) the ALJ did not evaluate her fibromyalgia appropriately,
(3) the ALJ improperly weighed opinion evidence, and (4) the
ALJ's step-five determination was not supported by
substantial evidence. Lavoie's first argument is
persuasive, and warrants a remand.
claims that the ALJ made two errors in analyzing her
depression. Lavoie argues that the ALJ erred in concluding,
at step two, that her depression was a non-severe impairment.
She further contends that the ALJ erred by failing to
consider her depression throughout the remainder of the
sequential analytic process. I take up each issue in turn.
Step Two Analysis ...