United States District Court, D. Vermont
OPINION AND ORDER
William K. Sessions III District Court Judge
Robert Bristol brings the present action pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 405(g) to challenge the final decision of
Defendant Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social
Security, denying his claim for disability insurance
benefits. Currently before the Court are Bristol’s
motion to reverse the decision of the Commissioner (ECF No.
7), and the Commissioner’s motion to affirm (ECF No.
11). For the reasons explained below, the Court denies
Bristol’s motion and grants the motion of the
Commissioner. This case is therefore dismissed.
applied for Social Security disability insurance
("SSDI") benefits on September 17, 2012, alleging a
disability that began on May 26, 2012. A.R.
The application was denied initially on November 30, 2012,
A.R. 82, and upon reconsideration on February 15, 2013, A.R.
92. At Bristol’s request, Administrative Law Judge
("ALJ") Thomas Merrill conducted a hearing on the
matter on March 12, 2014. A.R. 30. ALJ Merrill issued a
decision denying Bristol’s application on April 28,
2014. A.R. 23. On June 19, 2014, Bristol filed a request for
review by the Appeals Council. A.R. 5-6. The Appeals Council
denied Bristol’s request on December 2, 2014, rendering
ALJ Merrill’s decision the final decision of the
Commissioner. A.R. 1.
time of the hearing in front of ALJ Merrill, Bristol was 38
years old and lived with his family in St. Johnsbury,
Vermont. A.R. 31, 190. He obtained his GED in 1994,
id., and worked as a warehouse manager from 1996
until 2012, A.R. 168.
Bristol’s Social Security Questionnaires
October 28, 2012, Bristol filled out a disability
questionnaire as part of his application for SSDI. A.R.
190-97. At that time, Bristol reported that he suffered from
Meniere’s disease, which caused him to undergo frequent
attacks of dizziness, vomiting, and loss of balance. A.R.
190. He further indicated that he was bipolar, prone to
anxiety and panic attacks, and that he experienced lower back
pain, knee pain, and severe ringing in his ears. Id.
In spite of those conditions, Bristol provided that he was
able to take care of his baby while his wife was at work;
help care for his children and the dog; manage his own
personal care; handle money and go grocery shopping; and play
with his children and visit with friends. A.R. 191-94.
Bristol also reported that he could follow spoken and written
instructions, finish the activities that he began, and get
along with figures of authority. A.R. 195. Finally, Bristol
indicated that he did not handle stress or changes in routine
well and that he suffered from a fear of being alone. A.R.
months later, on January 16, 2013, Bristol again completed a
questionnaire in connection with his request for
reconsideration. A.R. 207-14. In the second questionnaire, he
stated that he experienced episodes of extreme dizziness,
vomiting, and loss of balance approximately three times per
day, with each episode lasting roughly two hours. A.R. 207.
He also wrote that his back problems made it painful for him
to bend and lift objects, and that his anxiety limited his
ability to leave his house. Id. According to
Bristol, when he was not suffering from the symptoms of
Meniere’s disease, he could care for his children, tidy
the house, drive a car, and go grocery shopping with his
wife. A.R. 208-10. He also reported that he could manage his
own personal care, follow spoken and written instructions,
pay attention normally, finish the activities that he began,
and get along with authority figures. A.R. 209-13. Finally,
Bristol reiterated that he did not handle stress well and
that he feared being alone. A.R. 213.
hearing before ALJ Merrill on March 12, 2014, Bristol
testified that he continues to suffer from episodes of
dizziness, vomiting, and loss of balance. A.R. 32. Bristol
stated that he was initially diagnosed with Meniere’s
disease in his right ear, and that he attempted to treat his
symptoms through both biweekly steroid injections and
surgery. Id. He indicated that neither procedure was
successful. A.R. 33. Bristol added that he was later
diagnosed with Meniere’s disease in his left ear as
well, and that he also received surgery on that ear.
to Bristol’s testimony, the onslaught of symptoms he
experiences is highly sporadic. Id. He stated that
on some days he endures three to five episodes, while on
others, he undergoes none at all. Id. Bristol
maintained that the length of the episodes also varies from
20 minutes to several hours. Id. When he experiences
an attack, he provided, he cannot stand or keep his eyes
open. A.R. 37. Bristol testified that he has medication for
his symptoms, but that the medication causes him to become
extremely tired and to fall asleep. A.R. 38.
respect to his mental health, Bristol reported that he
suffers from deep anxiety related to his Meniere’s
disease and that he prefers to stay close to home. A.R. 39.
He stated that he saw a mental health expert for
approximately six months regarding that issue, and that he
takes two medications regularly. A.R. 40. In addition,
Bristol provided that he has long experienced regular back
pain and that he drinks alcohol with his wife roughly twice a
month. A.R. 42.
Vocational Expert’s Testimony
T. Parker, a vocational expert who testified at the hearing,
stated that Bristol’s previous employment consisted of
two distinct responsibilities. A.R. 44. First, Bristol
primarily served as a warehouse supervisor. Id.
Second, Bristol was responsible for operating a forklift.
Id. According to Parker, Bristol’s prior work
as a warehouse supervisor is defined by the Dictionary of
Occupational Titles ("DOT") as light and skilled.
Id. Parker further indicated that the DOT defines
the operation of a forklift as medium exertion and
semi-skilled. A.R. 44-45.
Parker’s examination, ALJ Merrill posed a hypothetical
scenario in which Bristol could lift 50 pounds occasionally
and 25 pounds frequently; stand and walk for six hours; sit
for six hours; use his hands and feet to push, pull, and
operate controls; and maintain his balance frequently. A.R.
45. The hypothetical also provided that Bristol could not be
exposed to unprotected heights and hazardous machinery.
Id. Under those circumstances, Parker indicated that
Bristol would not be able to drive the forklift because he
would be unfit to operate hazardous machinery. Id.
Bristol would be able to perform the supervisory
responsibilities of his warehouse supervisor position,
however, as that role primarily involves the delegation of
tasks to others. Id. In addition, Parker opined that
Bristol would be able to work as an auto dealer, a janitor,
or a groundskeeper. A.R. 46.
second hypothetical scenario, ALJ Merrill changed the
circumstances such that Bristol could sit for six hours and
stand or walk for less than two hours. Id. If
Bristol could not complete an eight-hour workday, Parker
suggested that he would not be capable of maintaining any
full-time job. A.R. 47.
he could sit for six hours and stand or walk for a full two
hours, Parker opined that Bristol would be able to engage in
light or sedentary work. Id. Such work would include
positions such as a production sorter, a tile inspector, and
a telephone information clerk. A.R. 48. Finally, Parker
indicated that if Bristol required two or three unscheduled
30 minute breaks throughout the day, in addition to regularly
scheduled breaks, he would not be able to maintain any job at
all. A.R. 49.
November 24, 2010, Bristol checked into the emergency room at
Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital. A.R. 276. He reported
that he had experienced a sudden episode of dizziness and
vomiting three days prior, and that those symptoms had
continued intermittently ever since. Id. Stanley
Baker, M.D. conducted an examination and recorded a clinical
impression of vertigo. A.R. 276-77. Dr. Baker gave Bristol 25
milligrams of Meclizine, which subjectively improved
Bristol’s condition. A.R. 276. Bristol was then
released. A.R. 277.
April 7, 2011, Bristol was seen at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock
Medical Center for an "evaluation of ear symptoms of
Tinnitus, fluctuating hearing loss and vertigo." A.R.
246. Bristol indicated that he had a five-year history of
intermittent tinnitus in his right ear and a fluctuating loss
of hearing. Id. He also reported that he had a six
to seven-month history of vertigo associated with his ear
symptoms. Id. The vertigo involved both nausea and
vomiting. Id. Bristol stated that he had been taking
Meclizine, which he found useful for treating his symptoms.
Id. Peter Dixon, P.A., recorded an impression of
Meniere’s disease and recommended that Bristol return
for a review in three months. A.R. 247.
year later, on May 25, 2012, Bristol returned to the
emergency room at Northeast Vermont Regional Hospital. A.R.
278. He reported that he had been diagnosed with
Meniere’s disease and indicated that he had just
suffered an episode of dizziness, ringing in his ears, and
vomiting. Id. Dr. Baker recorded clinical
impressions of vertigo and Meniere’s disease, and
administered one liter of saline, four milligrams of Zofran,
and 25 milligrams of Meclizine. A.R. 278-79. Bristol then
indicated that his conditions had improved, and he was
released after treatment. A.R. 279. He stopped working the
next day. A.R. 168.
August 20, 2012, Bristol saw Daniel Morrison, M.D. at
Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center for an evaluation of his
Meniere’s disease. A.R. 240-41. Bristol informed Dr.
Morrison that he had an 18-24 month history of episodic
vertigo associated with tinnitus, pressure, and decreased
hearing in his right ear. A.R. 240. Bristol also stated that
approximately two months earlier, he had begun experiencing
episodes of hearing fluctuation and tinnitus in his left ear.
Id. With respect to the vertigo, Bristol reported
that he typically experienced dizziness two times per week
for two to three hours per episode. Id. The vertigo
was accompanied by nausea and vomiting. Id. After
conducting a series of examinations, Dr. Morrison diagnosed
Bristol with bilateral Meniere’s disease. A.R. 241. Dr.
Morrison indicated that due to ...