Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Andrade-Hermort v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

February 14, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration



         Defendant ("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.

         I. Background[1]

         This 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."[2] 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.

         Plaintiff 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 of Johnson.

         II. Standard of Review

         Reconsideration 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)).

         As to 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).

         III. Discussion

         The Commissioner argues that the court overstated the rule of Johnson and erred in finding the ALJ's decision unsupported by substantial evidence.

         According 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.[3] 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.").

         A. Applicable Rulings

         As the 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”).[4] 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.").

         B. ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.