United States District Court, D. New Hampshire
Gayle A. Bombard
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security
MCCAFFERTY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Bombard 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. Bombard moves to reverse the
Acting Commissioner's decision, and the Acting
Commissioner moves to affirm. For the reasons discussed
below, the decision of the Acting Commissioner is affirmed.
reviewing the final decision of the Acting Commissioner in a
social security case, the court “is limited to
determining whether the [Administrative Law Judge] 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 Administrative Law
Judge'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 review is more deferential than
it might sound to the lay ear: though certainly ‘more
than a scintilla' of evidence is required to meet the
benchmark, a preponderance of evidence is not. Purdy v.
Berryhill, 887 F.3d 7, 13 (1st Cir. 2018) (internal citation
omitted). “Rather, the court must uphold the
Commissioner's findings if a reasonable mind, reviewing
the evidence in the record as a whole, could accept it as
adequate to support her conclusion.” Id.
determining whether a claimant is disabled, the
Administrative Law Judge (“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.
§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv). 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).
detailed factual background can be found in Bombard's
statement of facts (doc. no. 9-2) and the Acting
Commissioner's statement of facts (doc. no. 10). The
court provides a brief summary of the case here.
November 16, 2015, Bombard filed an application for
disability insurance benefits, alleging a disability onset
date of November 15, 2014. She later amended her disability
onset date to May 5, 2015, when she was 51 years old. She
alleged a disability due to degenerative disc disease of the
lumbar spine, obesity, bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome,
bilateral carpometacarpal osteoarthritis, neck pain,
bilateral shoulder pain, bilateral leg pain, anxiety, and
depression. Her last insured date was December 31, 2015.
Bombard's claim was denied, she requested a hearing in
front of an ALJ. On March 29, 2017, the ALJ held a hearing.
Bombard, who was represented by an attorney, appeared and
testified, as did Warren Maxim, an impartial vocational
14, 2017, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. He found
that Bombard had the following severe impairments:
degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine and obesity.
The ALJ also found that Bombard's anxiety and depression
were not severe impairments, and that her bilateral carpal
tunnel syndrome, neck pain, bilateral shoulder pain,
bilateral carpometacarpal osteoarthritis, and bilateral leg
pain were not medically determinable.
further found that Bombard had the residual functional
perform less than the full range of light work as defined in
20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b). Specifically, the claimant
could lift twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds
frequently. She could stand and walk for six hours and sit
for six hours during an eight hour working day. She was
unlimited in the use of her hands and feet to operate
controls, push and pull. She could occasionally climb
ladders, scaffolds and ropes and occasionally stoop. She
could frequently climb ramps and stairs, balance, kneel,
crouch and crawl.
Admin. Rec. at 21. In assessing Bombard's residual
functional capacity, the ALJ gave substantial weight to the
opinion of Dr. Meghana Karande, a state agency medical
consultant who reviewed Bombard's medical records.
response to hypotheticals posed by the ALJ, Maxim, the
impartial vocational expert, testified that a person with
Bombard's RFC could perform the job of a hairdresser and
a hair salon/shop manager. Because Bombard had performed this
work in the past, the ALJ found at Step Four that she was not
disabled. In addition, Maxim testified that a person with
Bombard's RFC could perform jobs that exist in
significant No. in the national economy. Based on this
testimony, the ALJ found in the alternative at Step Five that
Bombard was not disabled.
January 29, 2018, the Appeals Council denied Bombard's
request for review, making the ALJ's decision the Acting
Commissioner's final decision. This action followed.
raises three broad claims of error on appeal. She argues that
the ALJ erred in: (1) evaluating the severity and effect of
Bombard's impairments; (2) weighing the medical opinions
in the record; and (3) evaluating Bombard's subjective
complaints. The court addresses each argument below.
contends that the ALJ erred at Step Two in finding that her
bilateral carpometacarpal osteoarthritis was not a severe
impairment. She also argues that the ALJ erred in failing to
consider the effects of Bombard's obesity in his RFC
assessment, despite the ALJ finding that it was a severe
Two - Severe Impairments
Two, the ALJ determines based on the record evidence whether
the claimant has one or more medically determinable
impairments that are severe. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(a)(ii). An impairment or a combination of
impairments is severe at Step Two if it “significantly
limits [the claimant's] physical or mental ability to do
basic work activities.” Id. §
404.1520(c). It is the claimant's burden at ...