United States District Court, D. New Hampshire
Theresa St. Laurent
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security
McCafferty, United States District Judge.
St. Laurent seeks judicial review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g) & 1383(c)(3), of the decision of the
Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration,
denying her application for disability insurance benefits and
supplemental security income. St. Laurent moves to reverse
the Acting Commissioner's decision, contending that the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in his
residual functional capacity assessment and in his Step Five
determination. For the reasons that follow, the decision of
the Acting Commissioner is affirmed.
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); see also Fischer v. Colvin,
831 F.3d 31, 34 (1st Cir. 2016). “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).
April 30, 2013, Theresa St. Laurent applied for disability
benefits and supplemental security income, claiming a
disability that began on January 2, 2012. St. Laurent alleged
that she was disabled because of fibromyalgia and heart
problems. She was 46 years old at the time of her
application, and had previously worked as a newspaper
packager and cleaner, as well as in positions in a greenhouse
and in a retail provider selling specialty foods.
Laurent was admitted to Portsmouth Regional Hospital in April
2011 for chest pain due to a myocardial infarction, which
required a stent placement and follow-up cardiac
rehabilitation. Over the next four-plus years, St. Laurent
consulted at various times with her physicians at Barrington
Family Practice and Walk In Care Center and at the York
Family Practice regarding her cardiac condition and chest
pains, which she suffered from routinely.
2011, she also developed lower back pain that radiated down
her right leg, which was related to fibromyalgia. St.
Laurent's back pain was exacerbated by a fall in October
2014, and she was continually treated conservatively for the
pain, such as with oral medications.
December 15, 2014, physical therapist Danielle Amero
completed a functional assessment for St. Laurent. Amero
opined that St. Laurent had significant limitations in her
ability to do any prolonged lifting, sitting, or standing,
and that she was incapable of performing full-time sedentary
January 21, 2015, Holly Brunner James, FNP, completed a
“Medical Source Statement (Physical).” In that
assessment, James, like Amero, opined that St. Laurent was
significantly limited in her ability to do any prolonged
lifting, sitting, or standing. James also found that St.
Laurent's ability to maintain attention and concentration
was significantly compromised by pain and/or prescribed
medication, and that she “could reach less than
two-and-a-half hours a day.” Doc. no. 10 at
Hearing and Decision
September 15, 2015, a hearing before an ALJ was held on St.
Laurent's application for benefits. St. Laurent was
represented by an attorney and testified at the hearing. Also
appearing and testifying were Dr. John Pella, an independent
medical expert, and Albert Sabella, a vocational expert.
Pella discussed St. Laurent's medical records and opined
that prior to October 1, 2014, St. Laurent was capable of
performing “overall light” work. As of October 1,
2014, Dr. Pella opined that St. Laurent was limited to
26, 2015, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. The ALJ
found that St. Laurent had severe impairments due to heart
disease/non-obstructive coronary artery disease and lumbar
degenerative disease. The ALJ also found that St. Laurent's
fibromyalgia was not a severe impairment and that her
impairments did not meet or equal a listed impairment.
primarily on Dr. Pella's testimony and St. Laurent's
testimony concerning her daily activities and attempts to
return to work, the ALJ concluded that prior to October 1,
2014, St. Laurent had the residual functional capacity to do
light work under 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b) &
416.967(b),  except that she could not work at
unprotected heights or operate dangerous moving machinery,
and she was limited to uncomplicated tasks and required
regular work breaks, on average of every two hours during an
eight-hour work day due to pain/medication side effects. The
ALJ also determined that as of October 1, 2014, St. Laurent
was limited to sedentary work, as defined by 20 C.F.R. §
404.1567(a), except that she could not work at unprotected
heights or operate dangerous moving machinery, and she was
limited to uncomplicated tasks and required regular work
breaks, on average of every two hours during an eight-hour
work day due to pain/medication side effects.
on that functional assessment, the ALJ found that prior to
October 1, 2014, St. Laurent could perform her past relevant
work as an apartment housekeeper. The ALJ also found that as
of October 1, 2014, St. Laurent could perform other jobs
existing in the national economy, including the
representative occupations of assembler and inspector.
Therefore, the ALJ found that St. Laurent was not disabled
within the meaning of the Social Security Act. The Appeals
Council denied St. Laurent's request for review, making
the ALJ's decision the Acting Commissioner's final
support of her motion to reverse the Acting
Commissioner's decision, St. Laurent contends that the
ALJ 1) erred in his residual functional capacity assessment
by improperly substituting his lay judgment for that of the
medical experts and 2) erred in his Step Five determination
because the vocational expert's testimony relied on