United States District Court, D. Vermont
Carrie E. Archambault, Plaintiff,
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER (Docs. 8, 15)
JOHN M. CONROY, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff Carrie Archambault brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the Social Security Act, requesting review and remand of the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying her application for disability insurance benefits. Pending before the Court are Archambault's motion to reverse the Commissioner's decision (Doc. 8), and the Commissioner's motion to affirm the same (Doc. 15). For the reasons stated below, the Court GRANTS Archambault's motion, in part, DENIES the Commissioner's motion, and REMANDS for further proceedings and a new decision.
Archambault was 46 years old on her alleged disability onset date of September 23, 2009. She attended school through the eleventh grade, and has work experience as a food preparer and cook at several businesses and facilities including at a general store, a hotel, a prison, a supermarket, and a nursing home.
Archambault has a history of childhood and adult abuse. She left home at the age of 18. She has married and divorced three times, and at least one of these marriages involved physical abuse. She has two adult children and one grandchild. On the date of the administrative hearing (July 2, 2012), she was living with and renting a room from a friend. (AR 46, 62.) At other times during the alleged disability period, she was living with a couple. (AR 282.) In August 2011, Archambault married for a fourth time. Her husband lives in Canada, and Archambault testified at the administrative hearing that she drives up to visit him "[e]very couple months." (AR 55.)
Archambault suffers from long-standing, severe right shoulder pain and more recently pain in her left shoulder as well. Between the years 2009 and 2012, she had three surgeries to address her right shoulder problems, the last surgery being a total shoulder replacement. She also has a rare lung disease known as pulmonary Langerhans histiocytosis, asthma, daily headaches, and sleep problems. Despite persistent recommendations from her doctors to stop smoking cigarettes, Archambault continued to smoke during the alleged disability period, exacerbating her breathing issues. In addition to her physical ailments, Archambault also suffers from anxiety, panic attacks, and depression. On a typical day, Archambault watches television, showers, makes her bed, prepares simple meals for herself, sits outside, relaxes, and takes a nap. (AR 57.) She also goes grocery shopping, socializes with friends, and tries to help her housemate with household chores. (AR 55, 61.)
In May 2010, Archambault filed applications for supplemental security income and disability insurance benefits. In her disability application, she alleged that she has been unable to work since March 11, 2009 due to shoulder replacement surgery, progressive arthritis, and lung disease. (AR 247.) She subsequently updated her application to add that she experienced a shooting pain down her arm; her left arm was "getting bad"; she was having more difficulty breathing; and she was always nervous and her mind felt like it was in a cloud. (AR 274.) She further stated that she was seeing a mental health worker for anxiety and depression. ( Id. )
On July 2, 2012, Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Paul Martin conducted a hearing on the disability application. (AR 41-72.) Archambault appeared and testified, and was represented by counsel. On July 18, 2012, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Archambault was not disabled under the Social Security Act from her alleged onset date through the date of the decision. (AR 12-25.) Thereafter, the Appeals Council denied Archambault's request for review, rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (AR 1-3.) Having exhausted her administrative remedies, Archambault filed the Complaint in this action on November 6, 2013. (Doc. 3.)
The Commissioner uses a five-step sequential process to evaluate disability claims. See Butts v. Barnhart, 388 F.3d 377, 380-81 (2d Cir. 2004). The first step requires the ALJ to determine whether the claimant is presently engaging in "substantial gainful activity." 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(b), 416.920(b). If the claimant is not so engaged, step two requires the ALJ to determine whether the claimant has a "severe impairment." 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(c), 416.920(c). If the ALJ finds that the claimant has a severe impairment, the third step requires the ALJ to make a determination as to whether that impairment "meets or equals" an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 ("the Listings"). 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 416.920(d). The claimant is presumptively disabled if his or her impairment meets or equals a listed impairment. Ferraris v. Heckler, 728 F.2d 582, 584 (2d Cir. 1984).
If the claimant is not presumptively disabled, the ALJ is required to determine the claimant's residual functional capacity ("RFC"), which means the most the claimant can still do despite his or her mental and physical limitations based on all the relevant medical and other evidence in the record. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e), 404.1545(a)(1), 416.920(e), 416.945(a)(1). The fourth step requires the ALJ to consider whether the claimant's RFC precludes the performance of his or her past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(f), 416.920(f). Finally, at the fifth step, the ALJ determines whether the claimant can do "any other work." 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g), 416.920(g). The claimant bears the burden of proving his or her case at steps one through four, Butts, 388 F.3d at 383; and at step five, there is a "limited burden shift to the Commissioner" to "show that there is work in the national economy that the claimant can do, " Poupore v. Astrue, 566 F.3d 303, 306 (2d Cir. 2009) (clarifying that the burden shift to the Commissioner at step five is limited, and the Commissioner "need not provide additional evidence of the claimant's [RFC]").
Employing this sequential analysis, ALJ Martin first determined that Archambault had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged disability onset date of September 23, 2009. (AR 14.) At step two, the ALJ found that Archambault had the following severe impairments: "right shoulder osteoarthritis status post multiple surgeries, asthma, Langerhans histiocytosis, an anxiety disorder, and an affective disorder." ( Id. ) At step three, the ALJ determined that none of Archambault's impairments, alone or in combination, met or medically equaled a listed impairment. (AR 14-16.) Next, the ALJ determined that Archambault had the RFC to perform "light work, " as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b), with the following additional limitations:
[S]he is limited to lifting and carrying up to five pounds maximum with the right upper extremity. She can perform overhead work on less than an occasional [basis], or [for] short, brief, occasional times per day, but generally speaking no overhead work. In general, she can perform no reaching forward. Objects will need to be kept close to the body. She has no difficulty otherwise with manipulation. [Archambault] can perform pushing and pulling occasionally. She can never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. [She] is limited to groups of less than ten; she cannot work in large crowds. She has the ability to interact with supervisors and coworkers and the general public. She can adapt to routine work environments and make simple decisions. She can ...