United States District Court, D. Rhode Island
LISA A. NELSON, Plaintiff,
NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
J. McCONNELL, JR., UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Lisa A. Nelson was forty-one years old on her alleged
qualifying disability onset date. She alleges that she is
disabled due to depression, anxiety, Crohn's Disease,
vertigo, carpal tunnel in her left wrist, and sciatica.
December 20, 2013, Ms. Nelson applied for Social Security
Disability Insurance benefits. That application was denied
initially and on reconsideration. Ms. Nelson timely requested
a hearing, which was held on September 30, 2015 and at which
she was represented by counsel and testified. A vocational
expert also testified. Following the hearing, the
Administrative Law Judge issued a decision denying her
request for benefits, finding that she was not disabled
between the alleged onset date of December 20, 2013 through
the date of his decision. Ms. Nelson requested a review of
the ruling, which the Appeals Council denied. Upon this
denial, the Administrative Law Judge's (ALJ) decision
became the Social Security Commissioner's final ruling
and is now ripe for this Court's review under 42 U.S.C. Â§
Nelson has appealed to this Court. ECF No. 1. She requests
relief under 42 U.S.C. Â§ 405(g), seeking to reverse the
ALJ's decision and remand for further consideration and
attorney's fees. ECF No. 12. Ms. Nelson's appeal
focuses on the ALJ's residual functional capacity (RFC)
limitation regarding her need to frequently use the bathroom.
She contends that the ALJ's factual findings on that
point are not supported by substantial evidence in the
record. Nancy Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social
Security, has moved for an affirmance of the ALJ's
decision. ECF No. 13. The Court, determining that the
ALJ's findings were supported by relevant evidence in the
record, declines to re-weigh the evidence or substitute its
judgment for that of the ALJ. Ms. Nelson's motion,
therefore, is denied and the decision is affirmed.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
district court's role in reviewing the Commissioner's
decision is limited. The court must reverse the ALJ's
decision on plenary review if the ALJ applies incorrect law,
or if the ALJ fails to provide the court with sufficient
reasoning to determine that he or she properly applied the
law. Nguyen v. Chater, 172 F.3d 31, 35 (1st Cir.
1999) (per curiam). Although questions of law are reviewed
de novo, "[t]he findings of the Commissioner of
Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial
evidence, shall be conclusive[.]". 42 U.S.C. Â§ 405(g).
determination of substantiality must be made upon an
evaluation of the record as a whole. The Court "must
uphold the Secretary's findings ... if a reasonable mind,
reviewing the evidence in the record as a whole, could accept
it as adequate to support his conclusion." Rodriguez
v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 647 F.2d 218,
222 (1st Cir. 1981); see also Ortiz v. Sec'y of
Health & Human Servs., 955 F.2d 765, 769 (1st Cir.
1991). In reviewing the record, the Court must avoid
reinterpreting the evidence or otherwise substituting its own
judgment for that of the Secretary. See Colon v.
Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 877 F.2d 148,
153 (1st Cir. 1989). The resolution of conflicts in the
evidence is for the Commissioner, not the courts.
Rodriguez, 647 F.2d at 222.
Commissioner must follow five well-known steps in evaluating
a claim of disability. See 20 C.F.R. Â§Â§ 404.1520,
416.920. Significantly, the claimant bears the
burden of proof at steps one through four, but the
Commissioner bears the burden of proving step five, that a
claimant's impairments do not prevent her from doing
other work that exists in the national economy. Ortiz v.
Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 890 F.2d 520,
524 (1st Cir. 1989) (per curiam). In assessing a claim,
"the Commissioner considers both objective and
subjective factors, including: (1) objective medical facts;
(2) the claimant's subjective claims of pain and
disability, as supported by the testimony of the claimant or
other witnesses; and (3) the claimant's educational
background, age, and work experience." Robinson v.
Berryhill, Case No. 16-CV-420-SM, 2017 WL 1843089, at *2
(D.N.H. May 8, 2017) (citing Avery v. Sec'y of Health
& Human Servs., 797 F.2d 19, 23 (1st Cir. 1986);
Goodermote v. Sec'y of Health & Human
Servs., 690 F.2d 5, 6 (1st Cir. 1982)). A claimant is
disabled only if his:
physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such
severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work
but cannot, considering his age, education, and work
experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful
work which exists in the national economy, regardless of
whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he
lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or
whether he would be hired if he applied for work.
42 U.S.C. Â§ 423(d)(2)(A). See also 42 U.S.C. Â§
1382c(a)(3)(B). Now the Court turns to the evidence in the
case in order to consider the two pending motions.
THE MEDICAL EVIDENCE IN THE RECORD
Nelson received her GED in 2000. She lives with her parents.
She has worked in the past as a cashier, bus monitor, office
manager, and telemarketer, but this work was not considered
substantial gainful activity such that it would qualify as
past relevant work under the guidelines. At the time of the
hearing, she was working 25 hours a week as a cook at a
Nelson has Crohn's Disease. Her treatment records during
the review period from December 2013 show complaints of lower
abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, cramping, diarrhea, and
bloody stools. Examinations revealed abdominal tenderness and
pain. Her Crohn's flare-ups were frequent and caused her
to be seen at the hospital multiple times. Ms. Nelson has
been medicated for this condition almost regularly, only
stopping incident to surgery and during period of time when
she was uninsured.
Oscar Glieberman, the consultative examiner, examined Ms.
Nelson in June 2014. She reported diarrhea and abdominal
pain. He noted abdominal tenderness, but found her physical
examination to be generally benign. Dr. Glieberman opined
that Ms. Nelson could not lift ...