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Scarafone v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

January 6, 2015

NICHOLAS SCARAFONE
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN.

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION

RYA W. ZOBEL, District Judge.

Plaintiff Nicholas Scarafone files this appeal under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking to reverse the decision of defendant, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Carolyn W. Colvin ("the Commissioner"), rejecting his application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3) ("the Act").

Plaintiff claims that the Commissioner's denial of benefits was not supported by substantial evidence, citing three alleged errors: (1) the Commissioner's finding that his degenerative disc disease did not meet an entry in the Listing of Impairments was too conclusory; (2) the commissioner's finding that he could perform light work with certain restrictions is inconsistent with her finding that he needed a job where he could alternate between sitting and standing every 30 minutes; and (3) the vocational expert ("VE") misinterpreted what constitutes transferable skills and when they are relevant to other occupations. Plaintiff seeks reversal of the Commissioner's final decision on the basis of these three errors.

I. Background

A. Applicable Statutes and Regulations

Under section 1383(c)(3) of the Act, a claimant seeking SSI must prove that he is unable to "engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which... has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). To meet this definition, a person must have a severe impairment that renders him unable to do his past relevant work or any other substantial gainful work that exists in the economy. 20 C.F.R. § 416.905(a).

The ALJ employs a five-step sequential evaluation process to assess a claim for SSI. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(I)-(v). The evaluation may be concluded at any step in the process if it is determined that the claimant is or is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). In order, the ALJ must determine: (1) whether the claimant is engaging in substantial gainful work activity; if not, (2) whether the claimant has a severe medical impairment that meets the duration requirement; if so, (3) whether the impairment meets or equals an entry in the Listing of Impairments, 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1, and meets the duration requirement; if not, (4) whether the claimant's residual functional capacity ("RFC") is sufficient to allow him to perform her past relevant work; and, if not, (5) whether in light of the claimant's RFC, age, education, and work experience, he can make an adjustment to other work. Id . § 404.1520(a)(4)(I)-(v).

A claimant's "impairment(s), and any related symptoms, such as pain, may cause physical and mental limitations that affect what [he] can do in a work setting." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1). RFC is "the most [a claimant] can still do despite [his] limitations." Id . A claimant can adjust to other work if he can do any jobs that "exist in significant numbers in the national economy (either in the region where [he] live[s] or in several regions in the country)." Id . § 404.1560(c)(1).

The claimant bears the burden of proof on steps one through four, id. § 404.1520; the Social Security Administration ("SSA") bears the burden of proof on step five. Id . § 404.1560(c)(2); see Seavey v. Barnhart, 276 F.3d 1, 5 (1st Cir. 2001).

B. Procedural History

Plaintiff filed an application for SSI benefits on November 12, 2009, alleging disability as of January 1, 2006. (Tr. 161). The SSA denied his application on May 3, 2010. Plaintiff filed a timely Request for Reconsideration on October 6, 2010, and on October 19 filed a Request for a Hearing before an ALJ. The requested hearing was held on July 6, 2011, and plaintiff's appeal was denied on July 15, 2011. Plaintiff then timely appealed that decision with the SSA's Appeal Council on August 22, 2011. That appeal was denied by decision dated December 28, 2012. Plaintiff subsequently instituted this civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), seeking reversal of the SSA's final determination.

C. Evidence at the Hearing before the ALJ

At the December 29, 2010, administrative hearing, the ALJ heard testimony from plaintiff ...


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