United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Sorokin United States District Judge.
Jolliemore seeks judicial review of a final decision by the
Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”) denying his request for Social
Security Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”)
and partially denying his application for Supplemental
Security Income (“SSI”). The Commissioner adopted
the ALJ's ruling that Mr. Jolliemore was not disabled
prior to November 16, 2014, but became disabled on that date.
Mr. Jolliemore argues that the ALJ erred by mechanically
applying the age categories defined by the Social Security
regulations when considering Mr. Jolliemore's age as a
vocational factor. The Commissioner seeks an order
reaffirming the decision. For the reasons set forth below,
this Court ALLOWS Mr. Jolliemore's motion for judgment of
reversal and DENIES the Commissioner's motion for
judgment of affirmance.
August 6, 2012, Mr. Jolliemore applied for DIB and SSI
alleging disability since January 1, 2010. A.R. at
The applications were denied initially and on
reconsideration. A.R. at 136, 175. Mr. Jolliemore then filed
a timely request for a hearing before an ALJ, which was held
on December 12, 2014. A.R. at 201, 236. On January 15, 2015,
the ALJ issued a decision finding that Mr. Jolliemore was not
disabled through June 30, 2014, his date last insured. A.R.
at 216. The ALJ further ruled that Mr. Jolliemore became
disabled on November 16, 2014, the date of his fifty-fifth
birthday, and has remained disabled. A.R. at 215-16. As a
result, the ALJ denied Mr. Jolliemore's request for DIB
and partially denied his request for SSI. A.R. at 217.
Jolliemore sought review of the ALJ's decision by the
Appeals Council (“AC”). A.R. at 225. The AC
affirmed the ALJ's finding that Mr. Jolliemore was
disabled beginning on November 16, 2014, but vacated the
decision and remanded with respect to the issue of disability
before that date. A.R. at 35-36. On October 5, 2016, Mr.
Jolliemore appeared with counsel and testified at a second
hearing. A.R. at 20. Pursuant to the AC's order, the ALJ
also heard the testimony of an impartial vocational expert
with respect to additional physical limitations affecting Mr.
Jolliemore's residual functional capacity. A.R. at 36.
The ALJ then issued a decision re-affirming the earlier
finding that Mr. Jolliemore was not disabled prior to
November 16, 2014. A.R. at 37. The AC denied review and
adopted the ALJ's decision as final on October 18, 2017.
A.R. at 1.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
court may enter “a judgment affirming, modifying, or
reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social
Security, with or without remanding the cause for a
rehearing.” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The court's
inquiry, however, is limited to whether the ALJ
“deployed the proper legal standards and found facts
upon the proper quantum of evidence.” Nguyen v.
Chater, 172 F.3d 31, 35 (1st Cir. 1999). The
Commissioner's findings of fact are “conclusive
when supported by substantial evidence” unless they are
“derived by ignoring evidence, misapplying the law, or
judging matters entrusted to experts.” Id. The
substantial evidence standard is satisfied when “a
reasonable mind, reviewing the evidence in the record as a
whole, could accept it as adequate to support his
conclusion.” Rodriguez v. Sec'y of Health &
Human Servs., 647 F.2d 218, 222 (1st Cir. 1981). If this
standard is met, the court must affirm the agency's
decision “even if the record arguably could justify a
different conclusion.” Rodriguez Pagan v. Sec'y
of Health & Human Servs., 819 F.2d 1, 3 (1st Cir.
the role of the ALJ, not the role of the court, to
“decide issues of credibility, draw inferences from the
record, and resolve conflicts in the evidence.”
Ortiz v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 955
F.2d 765, 769 (1st Cir. 1991). Thus, the ALJ is responsible
for determining the “ultimate question of
disability.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S.
389, 399 (1971).
individual is entitled to DIB if he is “disabled”
within the meaning of the Social Security Act
(“Act”) prior to the expiration of his insured
status. 42 U.S.C. § 423(a). The Act defines
“disability” as the “inability 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 which has lasted or can be
expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12
months.” § 423(d)(1)(A).
determining whether an individual is disabled, the Social
Security Administration applies a sequential five-step
evaluative process: (1) if the claimant is engaged in
substantial gainful activity, he is not disabled; (2) if the
claimant does not have a severe mental or physical impairment
or combination of impairments, he is not disabled; (3) if the
claimant has a severe impairment or combination of
impairments that meets or equals one of the conditions listed
in the Social Security regulations, he is disabled; (4) if
the claimant's “residual functional capacity”
is such that the claimant is able to perform “past
relevant work, ” he is not disabled; and (5) if the
claimant, given his age, education, work experience, and
residual functional capacity, is unable to perform other
work, he is disabled. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520,
416.920. The claimant bears the burden of establishing
disability in steps one through four. Goodermote v.
Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 690 F.2d 5, 7
(1st Cir. 1982). At step five, the burden shifts to the
Commissioner to prove that the claimant can perform other
work existing in significant numbers in the national economy.
establish whether the claimant can perform other work, the
ALJ may apply a series of rules contained in the
Medical-Vocational Guidelines identifying the existence of
jobs requiring specific combinations of factors. See
Heckler v. Campbell, 461 U.S. 458, 461 (1983) (upholding
the statutory validity of the guidelines pursuant to the
Social Security Act). If the claimant's residual
functional capacity and vocational factors correspond to a
particular rule, the ALJ may rely on that rule in concluding
that the claimant is disabled. 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P,
App. 2, § 202.00.
case, the ALJ applied the five-step framework to decide
whether Mr. Jolliemore was disabled. At step one, the ALJ
found that Mr. Jolliemore met the insured status requirement
of the Social Security Act through June 30, 2014 and had not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged
onset date. A.R. at 22. The ALJ determined at step two that
Mr. Jolliemore had the following severe impairments: (1)
right shoulder muscle tear with a partial joint dislocation
and moderate muscle strain; (2) status post right shoulder
surgery; (3) arthritis of the right thumb; (4) degenerative
disc disease of the lumbar and cervical spine; (5) major
depressive disorder; (6) posttraumatic stress disorder; and
(7) anxiety disorder. A.R. at 22. At step three, the ALJ held
that these impairments did not meet or equal the listings
described in Appendix 1 of the regulations. See 20
C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1. The ALJ concluded at step
four that Mr. Jolliemore's residual functional capacity