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Latterell v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, D. Vermont

March 11, 2015




Plaintiff Scott Latterell seeks reversal and remand of the Commissioner of Social Security's denial of his application for disability insurance benefits. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Before the court are Latterell's motion to reverse the Commissioner's decision (Doc. 12) and the Commissioner's motion to affirm the decision (Doc. 13).

I. Background

Latterell was forty-three years old on his alleged disability onset date of October 6, 2008 and is currently forty-nine. (AR 494.) He obtained a GED in the early 1990s. (AR 1688.) He has previously worked as a welder assembler, a piano technician, a furniture refinisher, and an automobile repairman. (AR 494.) He was formerly married and had two children including a son who died in 2010. (AR 99, 1668.) He lives with his sister and brother-in-law. (AR 31.)

Latterell suffers from lower back pain. He testified that he has experienced hack problems since he was in his twenties and the pain has worsened over the years. (AR 27.) In April 2006, he underwent surgery in the form of an L4-L5 hemilaminectomy and microdiscectomy. (AR 9.) He worked as a welder assembler until October 2008, when he stopped working due to back pain. (AR 27-28.)

At the 2010 hearing Latterell testified that due to his back pain, he needed to alternate between sitting and standing and needed to lie down two to three times a day. (AR 30.) During a typical day, he would watch television and "maybe go for a short walk." (AR 31.) He reported that he could prepare his own meals and do laundry, although he testified that his sister and brother-in-law took care of all chores around the house. (AR 31, 146.) He used to go fishing with his son several times a year but stopped going after his son died. (AR 38.)

Latterell has diabetes mellitus for which he requires insulin. (AR 1676.) He has had trouble managing his diabetes over the years and has experienced several hypoglycemic episodes, although there have been fewer such episodes since he stopped drinking. (AR 491.) Latterell has a significant history of alcohol abuse and has had at least eight DUIs. He is currently sober. (AR 34-35, 484.) Latterell has also experienced episodes of depression and anxiety since the death of his son. (AR 487.)

Latterell was incarcerated at Northwest Correctional Facility in Swanton, Vermont in September 2011 on a DUI charge. (AR 1670.) At the time of the May 2013 hearing in this matter, he was still incarcerated. He testified that he initially worked in the kitchen but eventually secured an easier job as a cleaner. In that position, he works about one hour a day cleaning offices, emptying trash cans, sweeping and mopping. (AR 1675.)

II. Procedural History

Latterell filed for supplemental security insurance and disability insurance benefits on May 28, 2009. (AR 98, 100.) His application was denied initially and on reconsideration. (AR 40, 44.) Following a hearing, Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Edward Hoban issued a decision on October 28, 2010 finding that Latterell was not disabled. (AR 15.) Latterell appealed to this court, and the parties agreed to a voluntary remand for further proceedings. (AR 524-31.) While his appeal was pending, Latterell filed new applications for benefits which were consolidated into Latterell's original applications. (AR 481.)

AU Ruth Kleinfeld held a second hearing on May 8, 2013, at which Latterell appeared with his representative. The ALJ heard testimony from Latterell and a vocational expert. (AR 1667-1704.) On September 10, 2013, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Latterell was not disabled. (AR 495.) This appeal followed.

III. The ALJ's Decision

The Commissioner uses a five-step sequential process to decide whether an individual is disabled. See Butts v. Barnhart, 388 F.3d 377, 380-81 (2d Cir. 2004). At the first step, the ALJ determines if the individual is engaged in "substantial gainful activity." 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i); 416.920(a)(4)(i). If not, the ALJ then considers whether the individual has a severe medically determinable physical or mental impairment or combination of impairments that has lasted or is expected to last continuously for at least twelve months. Id. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(ii); 416.909; 416.920(a)(4)(ii). At the third step, the ALJ considers whether the individual has an impairment that "meets or equals" an impairment listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix I. Id. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iii); 416.920(a)(4)(iii). An individual is presumed to be disabled if he or she has a listed impaillnent. Id.; Ferraris v. Heckler, 728 F.2d 582, 584 (2d Cir. 1984).

If the individual is not presumptively disabled, the ALJ then considers the individual's residual functional capacity (RFC), which means the most work the claimant can still do despite his or her impairments based on all the relevant medical and other evidence in the record. At this step, the ALJ also considers whether the individual can still perform his or her past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(iv); 404.1545(a); 416.920(a)(4)(iv). Finally, at step five, the ALJ considers whether the individual can perform "any other work." Id. ; §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(v), (g); 416.920(a)(4)(v), (g). The claimant bears the burden of proof at steps one through four. Butts, 388 F.3d at 380-81. At step five, there is "a limited ...

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