United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION
ZOBEL SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Lefebvre (“plaintiff” or “claimant”)
appeals from a final decision by the Commissioner of Social
Security (“the Commissioner”) upholding an
administrative law judge's (“ALJ”) decision.
The ALJ determined that plaintiff qualified for supplemental
security income (“SSI”) beginning on December 19,
2017, but did not qualify prior to that date. He denied
disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) entirely
because plaintiff did not have disability insured status on
the date his disability began.
February 2009, plaintiff filed for SSI and DIB, but his
claims were denied on April 17, 2009 at the initial
determination phase. Plaintiff did not seek reconsideration
of the denial.
April 2012, plaintiff filed new SSI and DIB applications, in
which he alleged that he had been disabled since April 2003
after a large spring fell on his hand and broke his right
wrist. These applications were denied in an initial
determination and again on reconsideration. Plaintiff then
obtained a hearing before an ALJ, who denied the claims on
December 10, 2013. The Appeals Council declined
plaintiff's request for review, and plaintiff appealed to
the United States District Court. R. 552. At the
Commissioner's request, the Court remanded the case for
further proceedings. Lefebvre v. Colvin, No.
15-CV-11610-GAO, ECF No. 23 (D. Mass. Feb. 16, 2016); see
also R. 555. On remand, the ALJ held a hearing on
October 24, 2017, at which plaintiff and Vocational Expert
(“VE”) Marissa Howell testified.
issued his written decision on December 28, 2017 (“2017
ALJ decision”). As an initial matter, he declined to
reopen plaintiff's SSI and DIB claims that had been
denied on April 17, 2009, and therefore only focused on the
period beginning with April 17, 2009. He found plaintiff was
not disabled from that date until December 19, 2017, when he
presumptively became disabled and eligible for SSI due to the
combination of his age and limitations. However, the ALJ
denied the claim for DIB because plaintiff no longer had
disability insured status on that date. See 20
C.F.R. § 404.131. Plaintiff now appeals the ALJ's
Applicable Statutes and Regulations
receive SSI or DIB benefits, a claimant must be unable
“to engage in any substantial gainful activity by
reason of any medically determinable physical or mental
impairment which ... has lasted or can be expected to last
for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42
U.S.C. §§ 423(d)(1)(A),
1382c(a)(3)(A). The impairment or impairments must be
“of such severity that [a claimant] is not only unable
to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age,
education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of
substantial gainful work which exists in the national
economy.” Id. §§ 423(d)(2)(A),
1382c(a)(3)(B); see also 20 C.F.R. §§
analyzes whether a claimant is disabled by using an
established five-step sequential evaluation process.
See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v),
416.920(a)(4)(i)-(v). Under this framework, the ALJ first
determines whether the claimant is currently engaging in
substantial gainful work activity. If not, then at Step 2,
the ALJ decides whether the claimant has a
“severe” medical impairment or impairments. A
severe impairment “significantly limits [the
claimant's] physical or mental ability to do basic work
activities.” Id. §§ 404.1520(c),
416.920(c). If the claimant has a severe impairment or
impairments, the ALJ considers, third, whether the impairment
or impairments meets or equals an entry in the Listing of
Impairments, 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpt. P, App. 1, and meets
the duration requirement. If so, the claimant is considered
disabled. If not, the ALJ must next determine the
claimant's residual functional capacity
(“RFC”), which is “the most [a claimant]
can still do despite [his] limitations.” 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1545(a)(1), 416.945(a)(1). The ALJ then
moves to Step 4 and determines whether the claimant's RFC
allows him to perform his past relevant work. If the claimant
has the RFC to perform his past relevant work, he is not
disabled. If the claimant does not, “the Commissioner
then has the burden, at Step 5, of coming forward with
evidence of specific jobs in the national economy that the
applicant can still perform.” Seavey v.
Barnhart, 276 F.3d 1, 5 (1st Cir. 2001); see
also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1560(c)(2),
416.960(c)(2). The ALJ consults a VE and/or the
Medical-Vocational Grid Rules (“Grid
Rules”) at Step 5 to determine whether the
claimant can do other work in light of his RFC, age,
education, and work experience.
The 2017 ALJ Decision
first step of the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ
determined that since April 17, 2009, plaintiff “has
not engaged in substantial gainful activity.” R. 448.
At Step 2, he found that plaintiff has the following severe
impairments: status post right wrist fusion, borderline
intellectual function, and alcohol abuse. The ALJ explained
at Step 3 that plaintiff “has not had an impairment or
combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the
severity of one of the listed impairments” in 20 C.F.R.
Part 404, Subpt. P, App. 1. R. 449. He assessed
After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that
since April 17, 2009, the claimant has the residual
functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20
CFR 416.967(b) except the claimant is able to lift and carry
10 pounds occasionally and less than 10 pounds frequently,
stand and walk for 6 hours and sit for 6 hours out of an 8
hour workday, can occasionally push and pull with the right
dominant upper extremity, can frequently climb ramps and
stairs, stoop, kneel, crouch, occasionally balance and never
climb ropes, scaffolds and ladders and crawl, can
occasionally finger and handle with the right dominant upper
extremity, must avoid hazards such as moving machinery,
unprotected heights, slipper[y] and uneven surfaces and is
limited to simple, routine, repetitive tasks.
fourth step, the ALJ determined that plaintiff is unable to
perform his past work as a truck mechanic. Finally, he
explained that, prior to December 19, 2017, considering
plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC,
there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the
national economy that plaintiff could have performed. R. 455.
He concluded, however, that as of December 19, 2017,
plaintiff's age category changed from “closely
approaching advanced age” to “advanced
age.” R. 454. As plaintiff was within “a few days
to a few months” of attaining the “advanced
age” category at the time of the ALJ's decision,
the ALJ explained that use of the next age category was
supported by “the significant adverse impact of all
factors on the claimant's ability to adjust to other
work.” R. 454; see also 20 C.F.R. §
416.963(b) (age categories need not be applied mechanically).
He concluded that the Grid Rules support a presumption that
plaintiff was disabled as of December 19, 2017, see R. 456,
and was therefore entitled to SSI beginning on that date.
However, because plaintiff's onset date was December 19,
2017, when plaintiff did not have disability insured status,
he was not entitled to DIB.
did not file exceptions to the ALJ's decision, and the
Social Security Administration's Appeals Council did not
assume jurisdiction within 60 days. The ALJ's decision
thus became the final decision of the ...