United States District Court, D. New Hampshire
Gawryl, Esq. Robert J. Rabuck, Esq.
A. DiClerico, Jr. United States District Judge.
Lagasse sought judicial review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
405(g), of the decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social
Security, that granted benefits for only a closed period of
disability. The magistrate judge issued a report and
recommendation to grant Lagasse's motion to reverse, deny
the Acting Commissioner's motion to affirm, and to remand
the case for an award of benefits. The Acting Commissioner
filed an objection to the report and recommendation, Lagasse
did not file a response to the objection.
referral of a dispositive motion, a magistrate judge issues
proposed findings for the disposition of the motion in a
report and recommendation. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). The
parties then have an opportunity to object to the report and
recommendation and to respond to an objection. Fed.R.Civ.P.
72(b)(2). The court conducts a de novo review of any part of
the report of recommendation that has been objected to and
may "accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the
findings or recommendations made by the magistrate
judge." § 636(b)(1); accord Fed.R.Civ.P.
April of 2013 when she was twenty-nine years old, Lagasse was
diagnosed with endocarditis, aortic valve vegetation, severe
aortic regurgitation, and pleuritic chest pain. She received
medical care for those conditions, and psychiatric treatment
because of increased anxiety and depression. She had aortic
valve replacement surgery on June 21, 2013, at Brigham and
Women's Hospital. She continued to experience anxiety
after her surgery, with panic attacks, depression, drug use
and abuse, and emergency hospitalizations.
October 13, 2013, Lagasse underwent an urgent procedure to
remove and replace the aortic valve. During the procedure,
Lagasse suffered a brain hemorrhage (cerebrovascular
accident) that caused a loss of sensation and loss of fine
motor control on her left side. The medical records indicate
that she continued to be treated for physical and mental
applied for social security benefits in 2014, alleging an
onset of disability as of April 2, 2013. She claimed
disability based on the cerebrovascular accident and its
effects including left-sided weakness, endocarditis and chest
wall pain, valvular heart disease, fibromyalgia, asthma,
intermittent left hand tremors, migraine headaches, obesity,
major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder,
attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, personality
disorder, and sleep disorder. A hearing was held before an
ALJ on March 15, 2016.
issued a decision on April 8, 2016, in which he found that
Lagasse had been disabled between April 2, 2013, and December
8, 2015, but that the disability ended on December 9, 2015.
In support, the ALJ found that Lagasse had severe impairments
from April 2, 2013, through December 8, 2015, due to
"status post cerebrovascular accident, valve defect,
depression, anxiety, a personality disorder and polysubstance
abuse" and that she could perform light work with
certain limitations, but would miss work three or four days
each month. Doc. 7-2, at 19 & 22. The ALJ found that as
of December 9, 2015, Lagasse had the same severe impairments
and the same residual functional capacity except that due to
medical improvement she would no longer be absent three or
four times each month. Based on that assessment, the ALJ
found that Lagasse was no longer disabled as of December 9
and found a closed period of disability. When the Appeals
Council denied review, the ALJ's decision became the
final decision of the Acting Commissioner.
sought judicial review and moved to reverse the decision.
Lagasse argued that the ALJ erred in finding medical
improvement as of December 9, 2015, because there was no
supporting medical opinion, and the ALJ made the finding
based on his own review of medical data. Lagasse also argued
that the ALJ had misinterpreted the medical records and
improperly weighed the medical opinions, which did not show
medical improvement in December of 2015. In her motion to
affirm, the Acting Commissioner argued that substantial
evidence supported the decision. Lagasse filed a reply.
magistrate judge found that the ALJ erred in finding medical
improvement by December 9, 2015, addressing issues not raised
by Lagasse in her motion. Specifically, the magistrate
faulted the ALJ for relying on Lagasse's activities
(rather than medical records) earlier in 2015, during the
period of disability, to find medical improvement. The
magistrate also faulted the ALJ for relying on Lagasse's
medical records in December and January to show medical
improvement when the number of medical visits could support
an inference of continued disability due to absenteeism.
Based on the errors found, the magistrate recommended that
the case be reversed and remanded for an award of benefits,
rather than for further proceedings.
objection to the report and recommendation, the Acting
Commissioner argues that the magistrate impermissibly drew
her own inferences from the medical evidence, contrary to the
ALJ's inferences, to conclude that substantial evidence
of medical improvement was lacking. The Acting Commissioner
also argues ...