United States District Court, D. New Hampshire
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Barbadoro United States District Judge.
Lambert challenges the denial of his application for
disability insurance benefits pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). He contends that the Administrative Law Judge's
(“ALJ”) decision denying his application should
be reversed because his residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) finding is not supported by substantial
evidence and fails to fully incorporate certain manipulative
limitations reflected in the medical record. Lambert also
argues that the ALJ erred by failing to resolve an apparent
inconsistency between vocational-expert testimony and related
information in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles
(“DOT”). The Acting Commissioner, in turn, moves
for an order affirming the ALJ's decision. For the
reasons that follow, I deny Lambert's motion and affirm
the Acting Commissioner's decision.
is a 45 year-old man with a high school education.
See Administrative Transcript (“Tr.”)
26, 204. He previously worked at Walmart from 2001 to 2006,
as the manager of the electronics department, and then at
Time Warner Cable from 2006 to 2015, as a customer service
technician. Doc. No. 9 at 2; see Tr. 204, 209.
Lambert has allegedly been disabled since March 16, 2015, due
to Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (“CMT”), a disease
that he has had since he was 18 years-old. See Tr.
44, 46-47, 56-57.
application for benefits was initially denied in October
2015. Tr. 86-97. His claim progressed to a hearing before ALJ
Paul G. Martin in January 2017, where Lambert was represented
by counsel. His claim was ultimately denied by the ALJ in a
written decision issued on March 1, 2017. Doc. No. 9 at 1;
see Tr. 18-28. On May 31, 2017, the Social Security
Administration (“SSA”) Appeals Council denied
Lambert's request for review of the ALJ's decision,
making it the final decision of the Acting Commissioner and
ripe for judicial review. See Tr. 1-7. Lambert now
THE ALJ'S DECISION
assessed Lambert's claim under the five-step, sequential
analysis required by 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. He ultimately
ended the inquiry by finding that Lambert was not disabled at
step five because he “was capable of making a
successful adjustment to other work” existing in
significant numbers in the national economy. Tr. 27. At step
one, the ALJ found that Lambert had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since March 16, 2015, his
alleged disability onset date. Tr. 20. At step two, he found
that Lambert's Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease
(“CMT”) was a severe impairment. Id.
“[A]lso described as hereditary peripheral neuropathy,
” CMT “primarily affects the lower and upper
extremities, ” see id., particularly
Lambert's “fine and gross motor coordination as
well as his balance and his gait.” Tr. 38. At step
three, the ALJ found that Lambert's CMT did not qualify
as a listed impairment as set forth 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, which would have
rendered him disabled per se. Tr. 21.
four, the ALJ determined that Lambert had the RFC to perform
“light work, ” as defined in 20 C.F.R. §
404.1567(b), except that he could only stand and/or walk for
up to two hours in an eight-hour workday, and could only sit
for up to six hours total. Tr. 21. The ALJ also found that
Lambert could “occasionally climb, stoop, kneel, crouch
and crawl, ” but that he could “never
balance” or “climb ladders, ropes or
scaffolds.” Id. He further found that Lambert
must “avoid hazardous machines and heights . . . all
writing other than signatures, ” and must also
“avoid competitive keyboarding and repetitive
handling.” Id. In making his determination,
the ALJ “considered all symptoms” as evidenced by
treatment notes, clinical examinations, Lambert's
reported daily activities, and his own subjective complaints.
See Tr. 21-26. These symptoms primarily included
“tremor and hand limitations, and weakness, numbness
and pain in his lower extremities associated with activity,
” which made it difficult for him to stand, walk and,
balance. See Tr. 22. His “bilateral drop
foot” caused him to regularly “trip” over
himself when walking and feel unsteady on his feet.
See Tr. 22, 51-52. Lambert also claimed to
experience loss of sensation in his hands and decreased
strength in his fingers. He testified that “due to
shakiness and poor motor control, he [had] difficulty
gripping a pencil or doing tasks such as opening food
containers, ” and that he had “poor
handwriting” that “improve[d] if he [wrote]
slowly.” Tr. 22, 51-53. He also testified that he
experienced difficulty typing but said that he could use the
“hunt and peck” typing method. Tr. 22, 56, 62.
the ALJ found that CMT “could reasonably be expected to
cause [Lambert's] alleged symptoms, ” he found that
Lambert's “statements concerning the intensity,
persistence and limiting effects of [his] symptoms [were] not
entirely consistent with the medical evidence and other
evidence in the record.” Tr. 22. The ALJ found that the
medical record did indicate progressive symptoms of
“pain or discomfort, numbness, tremors and weakness, as
well as ankle or gait instability, ” collectively
“limiting his tolerance for prolonged standing and
walking and some postural activities, as well as repetitive
handling.” Tr. 22. But the ALJ also found evidence that
Lambert retained “basic functions with the hands[, ]
such as manipulating utensils and ‘hen peck'
typing, ” and that he could “manage short
periods of standing and walking with use of boots.” Tr.
22; see Tr. 56. Lambert's activities of daily
living cited by the ALJ included “working part-time as
a caretaker for individuals with developmental disabilities .
. . shopping, limited yard work with help from his son,
caring for his dogs, taking out the trash, preparing meals,
and visiting friends . . . watching television . . . and
play[ing] computer games.” Tr. 22, 217-224. In light of
these findings, and testimony from a Vocational Expert
(“VE”) considering Lambert's relevant
description and work experience, the ALJ concluded Lambert
was unable to perform his past relevant work as a
“retail department manager and customer service
representative.” Tr. 26.
five, however, the ALJ concluded that Lambert was
“capable of making a successful adjustment to other
work that exist[ed] in significant numbers in the national
economy, ” and that a finding of “not
disabled” was therefore warranted under 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v). Tr. 27. The ALJ based his
conclusion on the testimony of a VE taken at the January 2017
hearing, who considered a hypothetical person with
Lambert's age, education, work experience, and RFC. Tr.
27, 65-74. When questioning the VE, the ALJ recited the
aforementioned RFC to the VE, placing particular emphasis on
“a need to avoid all writing other than maybe a
signature or something similar, ” and a need to avoid
“competitive paced keyboarding and repetitive
handling.” Tr. 68. When asked by the VE to clarify the
meaning of “repetitive handling, ” i.e. whether
it meant “occasional” or “frequent, ”
the ALJ responded: “Repetitive in terms of-in the
truest sense of repetitive, not in terms of frequent or
occasional, but more the ability to do so for a long[, ]
prolonged period, over and over.” Tr. 68. The VE,
understanding repetitive to mean “repeating the same
types of motion over and over again, ” see Tr.
68, then opined that such a person could perform work as a
“ticket taker, ” a “telephone solicitor,
” or a “final assembler [of] optical
goods.” Tr. 69-71. The VE further testified that those
three jobs existed in the national economy at levels of 73,
000; 72, 000; and 14, 000 positions, respectively.
See 69-71. The ALJ cited to this testimony in his
March 2017 decision and noted that he had determined it to be
“consistent with the information contained in the
Dictionary of Occupational Titles, ” as required by
Social Security Ruling 00-4p. Tr. 27. Accordingly, in
considering the availability of those 159, 000 positions
consisting of either “light” or
“sedentary” work that Lambert could still
perform, the ALJ found that Lambert had not been disabled
from the onset date through the date of the decision. Tr. 27
(citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g)).
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 curium). “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).