United States District Court, D. New Hampshire
Dorothy L. Stafford
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security
L. Ollila, Esq., T. David Plourde, Esq., D. Lance
McCafferty, United States District Judge
L. Stafford 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. Stafford moves to reverse
the Acting Commissioner's decision, and the Acting
Commissioner moves to affirm. For the following reasons, the
Acting Commissioner's decision is vacated and remanded.
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. §
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 the RFC
assessment. See Id. § 404.1520(a)(4)(v).
April 2014, Stafford applied for disability insurance
benefits. Concurrently, Stafford applied for Supplemental
Security Income (“SSI”) benefits. Stafford
claimed a disability that began on December 31, 2008, the
date last insured. As of the date last insured, she was 40
years old, had a high school education with two years of
college, and had specialized training as a certified
nurse's aide. Stafford had previously worked as an
administrative assistant, health care aide, nanny, and
preschool teacher. Stafford alleged that she was disabled
because of Type I diabetes, Charcot foot conditions,
peripheral neuropathy of the hand and foot, depression,
sacroiliac joint inflammation, acid reflux disease, and high
blood pressure. Stafford alleged that, since April 2003, she
was only able to work part-time as a result of her
impairments, which she continued to do until April 2014.
initial review, the Social Security Administration granted
Stafford SSI benefits but not disability insurance benefits.
The stated reason was that, while Stafford was disabled as of
her application date (April 2014), there was insufficient
evidence to determine whether she was disabled as of her date
last insured (December 2008). Stafford sought a hearing
before an ALJ on her application for disability insurance
Hearing & Record Evidence
April 20, 2016, a hearing before an ALJ was held. Stafford
was represented by an attorney and testified at the hearing.
Howard Steinberg, a vocational expert, appeared and testified
hearing, Stafford testified about the conditions that
prevented her from working in late 2008. She alleged that she
had (1) extreme fatigue, both from her impairments and
medications; (2) lower back and foot pain that prevented her
from sitting for more than thirty minutes; (3) poor focus and
general unreliability as a result of the variability in her
blood sugar levels; and (4) a need to lie down intermittently
during the day. Stafford also discussed, in general terms,
her lifestyle and ailments in and around 2008.
medical records from 2008 to 2010 shed more light on her
conditions from that period. The court need not explain these
records in detail; it suffices to say that they arguably show
that, with the aid of physical therapy and medication,
Stafford had greater abilities to work, engage in ...