United States District Court, D. New Hampshire
McCafferty, United States District Judge
Trudnak seeks judicial review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
405(g), of the decision of the Acting Commissioner of the
Social Security Administration, denying her application for
disability insurance benefits. Trudnak moves to reverse the
Acting Commissioner's decision, contending that the
Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") erred by failing
to perform a function-by-function assessment for purposes of
determining her residual functional capacity, and by failing
to determine the medical necessity of her assistive devices.
The Acting Commissioner moves to affirm. For the reasons
explained below, the court remands this case to the Acting
Commissioner for further proceedings.
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. 42 U.S.C. § 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).
determining whether a claimant is disabled, the ALJ follows a
five-step sequential analysis. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(4). The claimant "has the burden of
production and proof at the first four steps of the
process." Freeman v. Barnhart, 274 F.3d 606,
608 (1st Cir. 2001) . The first three steps are (1)
determining whether the claimant is engaged in substantial
gainful activity; (2) determining whether she has a severe
impairment; and (3) determining whether the impairment meets
or equals a listed impairment. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)
(4) (i)-(iii) .
fourth step of the sequential analysis, the ALJ assesses the
claimant's residual functional capacity
("RFC"), which is a determination of the most a
person can do in a work setting despite her limitations
caused by impairments, Id. § 404.1545(a)(1),
and her past relevant work, Id. §
404.1520(a)(4)(iv)). If the claimant can perform her past
relevant work, the ALJ will find that the claimant is not
disabled. See Id. If the claimant cannot perform her
past relevant work, the ALJ proceeds to Step Five, in which
the ALJ has the burden of showing that jobs exist in the
economy which the claimant can do in light of her residual
functional capacity assessment. See Id. §
404.1520(a) (4) (v) .
March 25, 2014, Trudnak applied for disability insurance
benefits, claiming a disability that began on June 10, 2013.
She was 48 years old at the time of her application, had a
high school education, and had previously worked as a
licensed nursing assistant ("LNA"). Trudnak alleged
that she was disabled because of lower-back problems and an
injured left leg, which arose from an incident at work where
Trudnak pulled her left leg while moving a patient.
March 17, 2016, a hearing before an ALJ was held on
Trudnak's application for benefits. Trudnak was
represented by an attorney and testified at the hearing.
Michael La Raia, a vocational expert, appeared and testified
order to provide some context, the court summarizes relevant
portions of the record. Generally, Trudnak presented evidence
to show that, as a result of her lower-back problems and the
symptoms resulting therefrom, she had extremely limited
mobility and could not stand or walk for even short periods
question, the medical records are mixed. Some records show
that, since June 2013, Trudnak has had significant pain in
her back and left leg, which limits her ability to walk and
stand. Over the years since her accident, Trudnak reported
and sought treatment for these medical issues, and she has
variously used a cane, a walker, and crutches to ambulate and
perform daily activities. In addition, at the hearing,
Trudnak testified about her physical limitations in her
current part-time job as a linen folder. Trudnak testified
that, during a 7.5 hour workday, she alternates between
standing and sitting every twenty minutes, and she takes
approximately four thirty-minute breaks in order to lie down
in her van.
other hand, there are medical records which indicate that,
since 2013, Trudnak has been able to ambulate without
assistance, and which arguably show that Trudnak's
alleged functional limitations are more intermittent than
record also contains a No. of evaluations completed by
various medical professionals regarding Trudnak's
capacity to work. In September 2014, Louis Rosenthall, M.D.,
the state agency consultant, completed an RFC assessment. He
opined that Trudnak could only perform sedentary work, could
stand or walk for up to two hours per eight-hour workday, and
required a cane throughout the workday. In February 2016,
Dennis Badman, M.D., ...