United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION
ZOBEL SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
("the Commissioner") moves for reconsideration of
the court's November 6, 2017 Memorandum of Decision
remanding plaintiff's application for Social Security
Disability Insurance benefits and denying the
Commissioner's cross-motion to affirm.
case hinges on the Administrate Law Judge's
(“ALJ”) determination of plaintiff's residual
functional capacity ("RFC"), i.e.,
"the most [she] can still do despite [her]
limitations." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545(a)(1). In the
proceedings below, the ALJ found that plaintiff had severe
impairments, including fibromyalgia. To decide whether those
impairments were disabling, he determined her RFC: she could
perform "light work” with certain limitations,
including that she could only stand, walk, or sit for about
six hours in an eight-hour workday and could only "climb
or balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl"
"frequently." This RFC somewhat incorporates
plaintiff's self-reported limitations as to, inter
alia, difficulty climbing stairs, kneeling, sitting, and
balancing. For the most part, however, the ALJ found
plaintiff's allegations were only "partially
credible" because they were not supported by the
treatment notes of her physicians. Concluding that a person
with plaintiff's RFC could perform plaintiff's past
relevant work, the ALJ determined she was not disabled.
sued and principally challenged the RFC determination. In its
November 6, 2017 Memorandum of Decision, the court agreed
with plaintiff that the ALJ had improperly discredited her
self-reported limitations and had erroneously relied on the
absence of objective evidence when determining her RFC.
Citing Johnson v. Astrue, 597 F.3d 409 (1st Cir.
2009), the court noted that objective evidence is not
typically found in fibromyalgia cases. The court therefore
remanded the application with instructions that the ALJ
reevaluate plaintiff's credibility and her RFC in light
Standard of Review
pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e)
"allow[s] a court to correct its own errors and avoid
unnecessary appellate procedures." Venegas-Hernandez
v. Sonolux Records, 370 F.3d 183, 190 (1st Cir. 2004).
"Rule 59(e) relief is granted sparingly, and only when
‘the original judgment evidenced a manifest error of
law, if there is newly discovered evidence, or in certain
other narrow situations.'" Biltcliffe v.
CitiMortgage, Inc., 772 F.3d 925, 930 (1st Cir. 2014)
(quoting Global Naps, Inc. v. Verizon New England,
Inc., 489 F.3d 13, 25 (1st Cir. 2007)).
the ALJ's decision, the court's review "is
limited to determining whether the ALJ used the proper legal
standards and found facts upon the proper quantum of
evidence." Ward v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 211
F.3d 652, 655 (1st Cir. 2000).
Commissioner argues that the court overstated the rule of
Johnson and erred in finding the ALJ's decision
unsupported by substantial evidence.
to the Commissioner, the ALJ was obligated to evaluate the
credibility of plaintiff's self-reported limitations per
the applicable laws and Social Security Rulings
("SSRs"), including the rules specifically
governing fibromyalgia evaluations. See SSR 12-2p, 2012
WL 3104869 ("Evaluation of Fibromyalgia"). She
contends that the ALJ appropriately considered the record
evidence when making that credibility determination and
calculating plaintiff's RFC. Moreover, the Commissioner
distinguishes this case from Johnson, arguing that
Johnson concerned the standards for
diagnosing fibromyalgia, whereas this case involves
determining whether plaintiff's diagnosed fibromyalgia
was disabling. She urges that because the ALJ
applied the appropriate law, and because the substantial
evidence supports his conclusions, his decision is entitled
to considerable deference. See Rodriguez v. Sec'y of
Health & Human Servs., 647 F.2d 218, 222 (1st Cir.
1981) (it is the Commissioner's responsibility to weigh
conflicting evidence and decide issues of credibility; the
court must uphold her findings "if a reasonable mind,
reviewing the evidence in the record as a whole, could accept
it as adequate to support [her] conclusion.").
Commissioner notes, SSR 12-2p guides the ALJ in
"evaluat[ing] a person's statements about his or her
symptoms and functional limitations" in fibromyalgia
cases. 2012 WL 3104869, at *5. It does so by directing the
ALJ to employ the two-step process set forth in SSR 96-7p.
Id.; see SSR 96-7p, 1996 WL 374186
(“Evaluation of Symptoms in Disability Claims:
Assessing the Credibility of an Individual's
Statements”). Step two of that process is relevant here:
in determining the RFC, "[i]f objective medical evidence
does not substantiate the person's statements about the
intensity, persistence, and functionally limiting effects of
symptoms, " then the ALJ must consider all of the
evidence in the record and make a finding on the credibility
of the person's self-reported limitations. SSR 12-2p,
2012 WL 3104869, at *5. Importantly, the ruling requires that
there be "sufficient objective evidence to support a
finding that the person's impairment(s) so limits the
person's functional abilities that it precludes him or
her from performing any substantial gainful activity."
Id. at *2; see Coe v. Colvin, No. CV
15-30037, 2016 WL 3350995, at *7 (D. Mass. June 15, 2016)
("some objective evidence is necessary in order to
determine the severity of a plaintiff's fibromyalgia to
support a finding of disability.").