United States District Court, D. New Hampshire
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Barbadoro United States District Judge
Tellier challenges the denial of her application for
disability insurance benefits pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). She contends that the Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) erred by failing to consider the limiting
effects of her joint pain and degenerative knee condition in
formulating her residual functional capacity
(“RFC”). She also contends that the ALJ failed to
adequately explain the persuasive weight given to her own
subjective statements concerning her physical symptoms. The
Acting Commissioner, in turn, moves for an order affirming
the ALJ's decision. For the reasons that follow, I deny
Tellier's motion and affirm the Commissioner's
is a 57 year-old woman with a high school education.
See Administrative Transcript (“Tr.”)
62. She has previously worked as a pharmacy technician and
teacher's aide. Doc. No. 12 at 1. Tellier has allegedly
been disabled since October 6, 2014,  due to a combination of
Meniere's disease, systemic lupus erythematous,
left-sided hearing loss, and an anxiety disorder.
See Tr. 44, 46-47.
application for benefits was initially denied in June 2015.
Her claim progressed to a hearing before ALJ Matthew G. Levin
in August 2016, who ultimately denied her application. Doc.
No. 12 at 1; see Tr. 44-53. On March 16, 2017, the
Social Security Administration (SSA) Appeals Council denied
her request for review, rendering the ALJ's decision the
final decision of the Acting Commissioner. See Tr.
1-7. Tellier now appeals.
THE ALJ'S DECISION
assessed Tellier's claim under the five-step, sequential
analysis required by 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. He ultimately
ended the inquiry at step four after finding that she was not
disabled during the period in question. At step one, he
found that Tellier had not engaged in substantial gainful
activity since October 6, 2014, her alleged disability onset
date. Tr. 46. At step two, he found that Tellier had severe
impairments of “Meniere's disease, systemic lupus
erythematous, and left-sided hearing loss.”
Id. He also found that Tellier had the non-severe
impairment of “anxiety disorder.” Tr. 46-47. In
making the latter determination, the ALJ considered the
“four broad functional areas” known as the
“paragraph B criteria, ” and concluded that
Tellier had no more than moderate limitations in
“activities of daily living, social functioning, or
concentration, persistence, or pace.” Tr.
He further noted, at step two, that Tellier's daily
activities were consistent with a finding of no more than
mild limitations in those areas. Id. Those
activities included helping her husband get dressed and ready
for work, preparing meals, performing chores, managing her
finances, appointments, and medications, using the computer,
and walking around the neighborhood. Tr. 47-48. At step
three, the ALJ found that none of Tellier's impairments,
considered individually or in combination, qualified for any
impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix
1. Id.; see 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d),
404.1525, and 404.1526.
four, the ALJ determined that Tellier had the RFC to perform
“light work, ” as defined in 20 C.F.R. §
404.1567(b), “except she should avoid exposure to all
hazards, temperature extremes, and loud background
sounds.” Tr. 49. In making his determination the ALJ
“considered all symptoms” as evidenced by
treatment notes, clinical examinations, Tellier's
reported daily activities, and her own subjective complaints.
See Tr. 49-52. Symptoms of Tellier's
Meniere's disease primarily included severe episodes of
vertigo and vomiting, described as occurring once every
two-to-three months, with “constant tinnitus.”
Tr. 49, 51. Her lupus produced fatigue, bilateral hand and
finger pain, “trace edema” in the hands and
wrists, and aching in the ankles and left knee. Tr. 49-51.
Although the ALJ found that Tellier's “impairments
could reasonably be expected to cause the alleged symptoms,
” he found that her “statements concerning the
intensity, persistence and limiting effects of [those]
symptoms [were] not entirely consistent with the medical
evidence and other evidence in the record.” Tr. 49.
Accordingly, he found that her testimony on that point was
“not fully persuasive.” Tr. 49. He ultimately
determined that the treatment notes showed that Tellier's
Meniere's disease was stable and that her lupus was
“well controlled with medication.” Tr. 51. He
noted that nothing in the record warranted additional
restrictions, specifically pertaining to the frequency and
severity of the symptoms associated with each impairment
during flares. Id.
light of the aforementioned RFC and testimony taken from a
vocational expert (“VE”) at the hearing, the ALJ
concluded that Tellier was “capable of performing her
past relevant work as a pharmacy technician and a
teacher's aide, ” as each occupation only demands
capabilities at a light exertional level. See Tr.
53, 85-86. The VE had opined that a hypothetical person of a
similar age, education, and vocational background to Tellier
could perform both jobs notwithstanding the limitations
contained in her RFC. Tr. 85-86. Accordingly, the ALJ
concluded that Tellier had not been disabled from the alleged
onset date through the date of his decision. Tr. 53.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
authorized to review the pleadings submitted by the parties
and the administrative record and enter a judgment affirming,
modifying, or reversing the “final decision” of
the Commissioner. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). That
review is limited, however, “to determining whether the
[Commissioner] 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 Commissioner'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
[her] 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)). If the Commissioner's factual findings are
supported by substantial evidence, they are conclusive, even
where the record “arguably could support a different
conclusion.” Id. at 770.
however, the Commissioner derived her findings by
“ignoring evidence, misapplying the law, or judging
matters entrusted to experts, ” her findings are not
conclusive. Nguyen v. Chater, 172 F.3d 31, 35 (1st
Cir. 1999) (per curiam). “Issues of credibility and the
drawing of permissible inference from evidentiary facts are
the prime responsibility of the Commissioner, and the
resolution of conflicts in the evidence and the determination
of the ultimate question of disability is for her, not for
the doctors or for the courts." Purdy v.
Berryhill, 887 F.3d 7, 13 (1st Cir. 2018) (internal
quotations and citations omitted).
alleges three errors with the ALJ's decision that she
argues warrant reversal. Doc. No. 9-1. First, she contends
that the ALJ's RFC determination is not supported by
substantial evidence because it does not contain limitations
related to her joint pain in her wrists, hands, and left
knee. Second, but similarly, she argues that the ALJ's
RFC is flawed because, in making his determination, he
ignored the effects of her “degenerative knee
condition” in combination with her lupus. Third,
Tellier argues that the ALJ's credibility assessment of