United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
CREMILDE C. RAPOSO, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
ALLISON D. BURROUGHS, U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE
Cremilde C. Raposo (“Ms. Raposo” 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
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) benefits.
Currently pending before the Court are Claimant's motion
to reverse or remand the Commissioner's decision denying
her SSI benefits [ECF No. 15], and the Commissioner's
cross-motion for an order affirming the decision. [ECF No.
21]. For the reasons described herein, the Court finds that
the decision of the Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) 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.
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 benefits on November 15, 2013.
[R. 25]. She alleged that she became disabled on
July 30, 1992 due to Raynaud's Syndrome
(“Raynaud's”), Systematic Lupus Erythematosus
(“Lupus”), rheumatoid arthritis, irregular
heartbeat, hyperlipidemia, a blood disorder, a muscle
disorder, chronic tinnitus, vision problems, and stomach
problems. [R. 26, 158].
Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denied
Claimant's application for SSI benefits on February 27,
2014, and again upon reconsideration on August 8, 2014. [R.
25]. Thereafter, Claimant timely requested an administrative
hearing, and a hearing took place before Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”) Paul W. Goodale on November 2,
2015. [R. 44]. Claimant, who was represented by counsel,
appeared and testified at the hearing. [R. 44]. On December
22, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Claimant was
not disabled. [R. 21]. On January 9, 2017, the SSA Appeals
Council denied Claimant's Request for Review [R. 2]. On
February 24, 2017, 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 in 1966 in Portugal where she lived until the age of
12. [R. 60, 62]. In 1978, she immigrated to the United States
and attended school through the ninth grade. [R. 61].
Claimant can read and write in Portuguese and English. [R.
29, 62-63]. Between 2000 and 2015, she held two jobs for
short periods of time: prior to 2006, Claimant worked as a
house cleaner with her sister [R. 71]; in 2012, she worked as
a caretaker for a woman with cerebral palsy [R. 69]. She
resides in a second floor apartment in Fall River,
Massachusetts with her teenaged son and daughter. [R. 60-61,
Claimant only challenges the ALJ's decision concerning
her conditions of Lupus and Raynaud's, the following
summary of the record is tailored accordingly. [ECF No. 16 at
3]. On October 24, 2012, Claimant began seeing Anis Rahman,
M.D. as her treating rheumatologist. [R. 408]. He described
her as a patient with a 15-year history of Lupus who
presented with “diffuse arthralgia associated with
Raynaud's” and noted that her fingers, toes, and
knees were cold and blue. [R. 408-09]. Claimant denied any
chest pain or shortness of breath, but stated that
Raynaud's caused her some pain. [R. 408]. Dr.
Rahman's examination of her joints showed “no
synovitis involving any joint” and a normal range of
motion. [R. 408]. He concluded that Claimant was
“basically doing well” with the exception of
Raynaud's and prescribed Nifedipine and advised her to
avoid exposure to cold weather, especially in the winter, and
to dress warmly whenever she went outside. [R. 409].
March 11, 2013, Claimant returned for a follow-up visit with
Dr. Rahman, stating that her Raynaud's symptoms had
improved with the use of Nifedipine. [R. 410]. Although she
had pain in her fingers, her symptoms were briefer and less
painful. Id. While her fingers and toes remained
cold and discolored, her joints continued to show no
synovitis and a normal range of motion. Id.
saw Dr. Rahman twice in May 2013, at which times her fingers
were cold and discolored but he found no other problems with
her joints. [R. 411-12]. When she visited Dr. Rahman on July
3, 2013, he observed that although she was still experiencing
problems from Raynaud's in warm weather, she felt better
after using a steroid, and her “intermittent
arthralgia” was “not bad.” [R. 413]. On
August 14, 2013, Dr. Rahman diagnosed Claimant with shingles,
but her Raynaud's condition remained the same. [R. 416].
December 31, 2013, Claimant reported increasing problems with
Raynaud's in the cold weather and that she was having
difficulty driving. [R. 559]. Her fingers appeared cold and
discolored but an examination showed no synovitis.
Id. On January 17, 2014, Claimant was reportedly
“not bad” except for exacerbated Raynaud's
symptoms in the colder weather and occasional arthralgia. [R.
561]. She also appeared unable to tolerate Nifedipine, as she
had developed redness in her face and legs from using it.
Id. Dr. Rahman characterized her Raynaud's as
“severe” due to the combination Raynaud's and
Lupus. Id. He prescribed medications to treat both
conditions, and advised her to dress warmly with gloves and a
hat. [R. 561-62].
February 26, 2014, state agency consulting physician John
Benanti, M.D. completed a disability determination
explanation form for Claimant. [R. 158]. With respect to
Claimant's physical residual functional capacity
(“RFC”), Dr. Benanti opined that Claimant could
perform the following tasks with certain limitations: (a)
lifting and/or carrying 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds
frequently; (b) stooping and climbing ramps or stairs
frequently; (c) climbing ladders, ropes, or scaffolds
occasionally; (d) kneeling, crouching, or crawling
occasionally; (e) standing or walking for about six hours in
an eight-hour workday; and (f) sitting for about six hours in
an eight-hour workday. [R. 163-64]. He also found that she
was not limited in her ability to push, pull, or balance, and
that she did not have any manipulative, visual, or
communicative limitations. Id. With ...