United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
ALLISON D. BURROUGHS U.S. JUDGE
Helen Degraffenreid (“Ms. Degraffenreid” or
“Claimant”) brings this action pursuant to
section 205(g) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §
405(g), challenging the final decision of the Commissioner of
the Social Security Administration (the
“Commissioner”) denying her claim for Social
Security Disability Insurance (“SSDI”) and
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) benefits.
Currently pending are Claimant's motion to reverse the
Commissioner's decision denying her disability benefits
[ECF No. 17], and the Commissioner's cross-motion for an
order affirming the decision. [ECF No. 18]. For the reasons
described herein, the Court finds that the ALJ's decision
was supported by substantial evidence and therefore
DENIES Claimant's motion to reverse and remand
and ALLOWS the Commissioner's motion to affirm.
Statutory and Regulatory Framework: Five-Step Process to
Evaluate Disability Claims
Social Security Administration is the federal agency charged
with administering both the Social Security disability
benefits program, which provides disability insurance for
covered workers, and the Supplemental Security Income
program, which provides assistance for the indigent aged and
disabled.” Seavey v. Barnhart, 276 F.3d 1, 5
(1st Cir. 2001) (citing 42 U.S.C. §§ 423, 1381a).
Social Security Act (the “Act”) provides that an
individual shall be considered to be “disabled”
if he or she is:
unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity by
reason of any medically determinable physical or mental
impairment which can be expected to result in death or that
has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period
of not less than twelve months.
42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A); see also 42 U.S.C.
§ 423(d)(1)(A). The inability must be severe, such that
the claimant is unable to do his or her previous work or any
other substantial gainful activity that exists in the
national economy. See 42 U.S.C. §
1382c(a)(3)(B); 20 C.F.R. § 416.905.
evaluating a disability claim under the Act, the Commissioner
uses a five-step process, which the First Circuit has
explained as follows:
All five steps are not applied to every applicant, as the
determination may be concluded at any step along the process.
The steps are: 1) if the applicant is engaged in substantial
gainful work activity, the application is denied; 2) if the
applicant does not have, or has not had within the relevant
time period, a severe impairment or combination of
impairments, the application is denied; 3) if the impairment
meets the conditions for one of the “listed”
impairments in the Social Security regulations, then the
application is granted; 4) if the applicant's
“residual functional capacity” is such that he or
she can still perform past relevant work, then the
application is denied; 5) if the applicant, given his or her
residual functional capacity, education, work experience, and
age, is unable to do any other work, the application is
Seavey, 276 F.3d at 5 (citing 20 C.F.R. §
the record includes medical evidence of drug addiction or
alcoholism (“DAA”), there is an additional step:
the Commissioner must determine whether the DAA is a
“contributing factor material to the determination of
disability.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1535. This is
because, “[a]n individual shall not be considered . . .
disabled . . . if alcoholism or drug addiction would . . . be
a contributing factor material to the Commissioner's
determination that the individual is disabled.” 42
U.S.C. § 1382c (a)(3)(J)). “The key factor . . .
in determining whether drug addiction or alcoholism is a
contributing factor material to the determination of
disability is whether [the Commissioner] would still find
[the claimant] disabled if [the claimant] stopped using drugs
or alcohol.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.1535. Accordingly,
where there is medical evidence of DAA, the ALJ repeats the
five-step analysis to determine if the claimant would be
disabled even if he or she stopped using drugs or alcohol.
Degraffenreid filed her application for SSI benefits on June
21, 2013 and for SSDI benefits on June 29, 2013. [R.
291-302]. She alleged that she became disabled on
February 8, 2012, due to a combination of impairments
including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, attention
deficit disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. [R.
292]. Her date last insured was June 30, 2013. [R. 313].
Social Security Administration (the “SSA”) denied
Ms. Degraffenreid's applications for SSI and SSDI
benefits on September 3, 2013, and again upon reconsideration
on January 24, 2014. [R. 138-139, 178-179]. Thereafter, Ms.
Degraffenreid requested an administrative hearing [R.
195-196], and a hearing took place before Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”) Paul W. Goodale on August 14, 2014.
[R. 28-104]. Ms. Degraffenreid, who was represented by
counsel, appeared and testified at the hearing, as did a
vocational expert (“VE”). On September 23, 2014,
the ALJ issued a decision finding that Ms. Degraffenreid was
not disabled. [R. 10-22]. The SSA Appeals Council denied Ms.
Degraffenreid's Request for Review on November 26, 2014
[R. 1-4]. On January 23, 2015, Ms. Degraffenreid filed a
timely Complaint with this Court, seeking review of the
Commissioner's decision pursuant to section 205(g) of the
Act. [ECF No. 1].
Degraffenreid was born on July 23, 1971 and was raised in
Somerville and Woburn, Massachusetts. [R. 105; 1034]. She
graduated from Woburn High School. [R. 653]. She has two
daughters, who both live with their father. [R. 299]. Ms.
Degraffenreid has had periods of homelessness and lost
custody of her children as a result of her unstable living
situation and alcohol use. [R. 653]. Ms. ...