United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
ALLISON D. BURROUGHS U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE
Leona Walker (“Ms. Walker” 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 claims 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. 16], and the Commissioner's cross-motion for an
order affirming the decision. [ECF No. 22]. For the reasons
described herein, the Court finds that the Administrative Law
Judge's decision was not supported by substantial
evidence and therefore VACATES the decision of the
Commissioner and REMANDS the case for further
administrative proceedings consistent with this opinion.
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 disability 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(a).
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. §
filed her application for SSI and SSDI benefits on March 11,
2014. [R. 21].She alleged that she became disabled on
December 1, 2013, due to various psychiatric disorders
including borderline personality, generalized anxiety,
post-traumatic stress (“PTSD”), and major
depressive disorders, as well as delayed sleep phase
syndrome. [R. 24, 317, 325]. Her date last insured was
December 31, 2015. [R. 39-40].
Social Security Administration (the “SSA”) denied
Claimant's applications for SSI and SSDI benefits on June
20, 2014, and again upon reconsideration on August 8, 2014.
[R. 21]. Thereafter, Claimant requested an administrative
hearing, and a hearing took place before Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”) Paul Carter on September 8, 2015.
[R. 21, 30]. Claimant, who was represented by counsel,
appeared and testified at the hearing. [R. 21]. On October
19, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Claimant was
not disabled. [R. 30]. The SSA Appeals Council denied
Claimant's Request for Review on August 31, 2016 [R. 1].
On September 29, 2016, Claimant 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].
was born on May 15, 1967. [R. 44]. She is unmarried and has
no children. [R. 45]. Claimant currently resides in Boston,
Massachusetts. [R. 43]. She holds a college degree in English
from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. [R. 45-46]. She
began to pursue a Master's degree, but never completed
her studies. [R. 46].
has worked as a cashier or retail sales clerk on six
different occasions from 2008 to 2013, never for more than
six months at a time. [R. 227]. Claimant also worked as an
intern for a housing program for one to two months in 2009,
as a clerk for the Department of Revenue for three months in
2007, and as a substitute teacher for two periods of three to
four months in 2007. [R. 46, 227].
medical records begin in 2011. At that time, she had been
diagnosed with major depressive disorder and borderline
personality disorder by two health care providers, Dr. Eugene
Uzogara, MD, and Edwige Berrouet, Licensed Independent
Clinical Social Worker (“LICSW”). [R. 325-26,
329-34, 337]. Each doctor assessed Claimant's Global
Assessment of Functioning (“GAF”), and each
assigned Claimant a GAF of 55, noting that previously, her
highest GAF score within the past year was 50. [R. 326, 331]. In
April of 2011, Berrouet described Claimant as
“irritable, angry, and tired, ” and noted that
she was having problems with sleep, had “issues”
with friends and family, and held a negative worldview. [R.
379]. Later in April of 2011, Berrouet continued to describe
Claimant as irritable, angry, sleep deprived, and paranoid,
with a “very negative worldview.” [R. 435].
of 2012, Claimant visited Dr. Nishi Bhopal, MD, a sleep
medicine fellow at a sleep clinic, due to her difficulty
sleeping, which she had experienced since age 13 or 14. [R.
315, 318]. Claimant reported that when she is awake for over
18-24 hours, her sleep deprivation results in hallucinations,
anxiety, paranoia, jitters, and irritability. [R. 315-16].
Claimant also told Dr. Bhopal that she had been unemployed
since she was fired from her job in October of 2011 due to
customer complaints regarding her irritability. [R. 316]. Dr.
Bhopal diagnosed Claimant with delayed sleep phase syndrome
and bipolar disorder. [R. 317-18]. Claimant reported ...