United States District Court, D. Vermont
OPINION AND ORDER (Docs. 16, 18)
JOHN M. CONROY, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff Sherri Langlois 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 Langlois's motion to reverse the Commissioner's decision (Doc. 16), and the Commissioner's motion to affirm the same (Doc. 18). For the reasons stated below, Langlois's motion is GRANTED, the Commissioner's motion is DENIED, and the matter is REMANDED for further proceedings and a new decision.
Langlois was 40 years old on her alleged disability onset date of June 10, 2010. She has a high-school education plus two years at a community college. She has worked as a nurse's assistant, a live-in personal care provider, and a child care provider; and on a part-time basis as a housecleaner and a construction assistant. She has been married and divorced twice, and has three sons.
From the ages of five to fifteen, Langlois was physically abused by her older sister and sexually abused by a male cousin. (AR 409, 420, 607.) She has also been a victim of domestic violence by her husbands and fiance. In a November 2011 letter, a domestic-violence-victim advocate who worked with Langlois stated that the Burlington Police Department first responded to a domestic violence complaint between Langlois and her fiance at the time in 2000, and since then the Department responded to 45 complaints between them, the last one in July 2011. (AR 314.)
Langlois has a long history of anxiety, depression, posttraumatic stress disorder ("PTSD"), attention deficit disorder ("ADD"), and agoraphobia. ( See, e.g., AR 315, 515.) In 1994, after losing approximately 40 pounds in three months, she was hospitalized for nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, and dehydration. (AR 1009, 1013, 1020.) Hospital notes describe Langlois as having distorted body image and possibly an eating disorder, and state that Langlois agreed to see a psychiatrist about these issues. (AR 1009.) Langlois also has a history of skin problems, including eczema, actinic keratosis, and skin cancer, secondary to a chronic history of artificial tanning. ( See, e.g., AR 409, 806.) In 2011, she had a tumor removed from her chest, and she has had several scrapings of precancerous skin, as well as chemotherapy on her arm, neck, chest, face, and legs. (AR 50-52, 409.) She has also had reconstructive surgeries, including abdominal, thigh, and hip liposuction. ( See, e.g., AR 986-90.)
In February 2011, Langlois filed applications for supplemental security income and disability insurance benefits. In her disability application, she alleged that she has been unable to work since June 10, 2010 due to sleeping issues, depression, skin cancer, anxiety, and panic attacks. (AR 247.) At the December 2012 administrative hearing, Langlois testified that, on a typical day, she does not do much: her mother does the laundry and the shopping and helps care for her 12-year-old son; and her son does the dishes, takes out the garbage, vacuums, feeds the dog, and helps with the laundry. (AR 46.) She further testified that she does not go to the store or to her son's medical appointments because she gets too stressed in public, and she is unable to finish tasks and maintain focus. (AR 47-48, 50.)
Langlois's application was denied initially and upon reconsideration, and she timely requested an administrative hearing. On December 5, 2012, Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") James D'Alessandro conducted a hearing on the application. (AR 34-55.) Langlois appeared and testified, and was represented by counsel. On January 4, 2013, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Langlois was not disabled under the Social Security Act from her alleged onset date through the date of the decision. (AR 19-27.) Thereafter, the Appeals Council denied Langlois's request for review, rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. (AR 5-7.) Having exhausted her administrative remedies, Langlois filed the Complaint in this action on September 26, 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 D'Alessandro first determined that Langlois had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since her alleged disability onset date of June 10, 2010. (AR 22.) At step two, the ALJ found that Langlois had the severe impairments of depression and anxiety, but her borderline personality disorder was not severe. ( Id. ) At step three, the ALJ determined that none of Langlois's impairments, alone or in combination, met or medically equaled a listed impairment. (AR 23-24.) Next, the ALJ determined that Langlois had the RFC to perform "light work, " as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b), except as follows:
[Langlois] needs low contact with people, cannot work at unprotected heights or tolerate temperature extremes, cannot tolerate more than moderate levels of noise[, ] and can only occasionally tolerate moving mechanical part[s], operating a motor vehicle, tolerate humidity and wetness, tolerate vibration[, ] and tolerate dust, odors, fumes[, ] and pulmonary irritants.
(AR 24.) Given this RFC, the ALJ found that Langlois was capable of performing her past relevant work as a housecleaner and a personal care provider. (AR 27.) Additionally, the ALJ found that Langlois could perform other work, including the jobs of a "buckler and lacer (boot and shoe), " an "addresser I (clerical), " and a "preparer (jewelry-silver)." ( Id. ) The ALJ concluded that Langlois had not been under a disability from the alleged onset date of June 10, 2010 through the date of the decision. ( Id. )
Standard of Review
The Social Security Act defines the term "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." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). A person will be found disabled only if it is determined that his "impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work[, ] but cannot, considering his age, ...