United States District Court, District of Columbia
DEBORAH A. ROBINSON, United States Magistrate Judge
Steven Ellison ("Plaintiff) commenced this action
against the Acting Commissioner of Social Security
("Defendant"), pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g),
seeking reversal of an Administrative Law Judge's
decision denying Plaintiffs claim for Supplemental Social
Income Benefits. See Complaint (ECF No. 1) at 1.
Pending for determination by the court are Plaintiffs Motion
for Judgment of Reversal ("Plaintiff s Motion")
(ECF No. 10) and Defendant's Motion for Judgment of
Affirmance ("Defendant's Motion") (ECF No.
Upon consideration of the motions, the memoranda in support
thereof and opposition thereto, the administrative record,
and the entire record herein, the court will grant, in part,
Plaintiffs Motion and deny Defendant's Motion.
September 13, 2012, Plaintiff applied for Supplemental
Security Income Benefits under Title XVI of the Social
Security Act, alleging December 5, 2005 as the onset date of
his disability. Plaintiffs Memorandum (ECF No. 10-1) at 1.
Plaintiff cited gout, arthritis, swollen joint and
hypertension as the bases for his claim of disability.
Id. The Social Security Administration
("SSA") denied Plaintiff s disability claims
initially and upon reconsideration. Id.
the denial, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). Said hearing took
place on June 24, 2014. Id. at 2. On November 5,
2014, the ALJ denied Plaintiffs claim, finding that Plaintiff
was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security
Act. Id. at 2. In the decision, the ALJ utilized the
five-step process outlined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.920 to
determine whether Plaintiff was disabled. Administrative
Record ("AR") (ECF No. 7-3) at 5.
One, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since the application date.
Id. at 7. At Step Two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff
suffered from the following severe impairments: "gouty
arthritis and osteoarthritis and allied disorder."
Id. At Step Three, the ALJ found that Plaintiffs
impairment did not meet or medically equal the severity of
any listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 1, specifically considering Listing 1.02.
Id. at8. At Step Four, the ALJ conducted a residual
functional capacity assessment of the Plaintiff and found
that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to
perform less than full range of medium work as defined in 20
CFR 416.967(c), but could frequently balance, stoop, kneel,
crouch, crawl, climb ramps and stairs, and occasionally climb
ropes, ladder and scaffolds. Id. Additionally, the
ALJ found that Plaintiff was unable to perform any past
relevant work. Id. at 12. At Step Five, after
considering Plaintiffs age, education, work experience, and
residual functional capacity ("RFC"), the ALJ
determined that Plaintiff was able to perform other work and
thus, was not disabled, as defined by the Social Security
Act. Id. at 17-18.
Plaintiff sought review of the decision by the Appeals
Council. Plaintiff s Memorandum (ECF No. 10-1) at 2. The
Appeals Council rejected Plaintiff s request, concluding that
there was no basis for granting review of the ALJ's
OF THE PARTIES
contends that the ALJ's decision must be reversed because
his assessment of Plaintiffs RFC was not supported by
substantial evidence. Primarily, Plaintiff asserts that the
ALJ failed to consider Plaintiffs "periodic flare-ups of
gouty arthritis[, ]" Plaintiffs "primary
impairment[, ]" when determining Plaintiffs RFC.
Plaintiffs Memorandum at 5. More specifically, Plaintiff
asserts that the ALJ's failure to consider the
"frequency and duration" of Plaintiffs flares
resulted in an inaccurate analysis of and determination with
respect to Plaintiff's RFC. Plaintiffs Reply (ECF No. 16)
at 4. Plaintiff asserts that during his episodes of flares,
he has difficultly performing basic tasks, and the ALJ should
have assessed Plaintiff s ability to sustain gainful
employment during a flare-up period to accurately discern
Plaintiffs RFC. Plaintiffs Memorandum at 5 ("His
flare-ups primarily impact his hands and his feet, and limit
his abilities to stand and walk, perform fine and gross
manipulation, and perform activities of daily living.").
According to Plaintiffs testimony, the flares induced by his
condition occur "between one time per week and one time
per month" and "the length of the gout flare was
reported to be anywhere from a few days to two weeks."
Id. at 6.
the significant limitation of motor movements caused by his
reoccurring flares, Plaintiff argues that the vocational
expert could not have considered these impairments and still
found Plaintiff capable of performing gainful employment
activity, particularly after stating during the
administrative hearing that "if an individual was absent
from work as little as two days per month, the individual
would not be employable." Plaintiffs Reply at 4 (citing
ARat78). Plaintiff concludes that as a result of the
ALJ's failure to consider the effect of Plaintiffs gout
flares on his ability to sustain substantial gainful
employment, the RFC finding that Plaintiff could perform
"medium exertional" work is unsupported by
substantial evidence in the record. See id. at 23.
response, Defendant asserts that the ALJ's RFC
determination, in which the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff
could perform a limited range of medium work including
standing, sitting or walking for six hours in an eight-hour
day, was supported by substantial evidence in the record. As
argued by Defendant, substantial evidence existed in the
record to support the ALJ's determination, including the
medical opinion of Dr. Randi Abramson (excluding her April
2012 letter), Dr. Fizzeh Nelson-Desiderio, a disability
determination services physician, and Plaintiff s own
testimony concerning his ability to perform daily activities.
Defendant's Memorandum at 11-12.
reply, Plaintiff reasserts the aforementioned arguments and
challenges Defendant's attempt to apply a post-hoc
rationalization to the ALJ's decision to deny Plaintiffs
claim for benefits. In response, Defendant asserts that
Plaintiffs claims lack merit and the ALJ properly considered
the evidence in the record and determined, based on
substantial evidence, that Plaintiff was not disabled under
the statutory definition outlined by the SSA.
Social Security Act of 1935 ("the Act") established
a framework to provide "disability insurance
benefits" to eligible individuals and "supplemental
security income" to individuals who have attained the
age of 65, are blind, or disabled." 42 U.S.C.
§§ 423, 1381, 1381a. The Act defines
"disability" for non-blind individuals as
"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); 20 C.F.R. § 416.905. A
"disabled" individual is eligible for supplemental
security income if he or she meets additional statutory
requirements concerning income and resources. 42 U.S.C.
§ 1382(a). The SSA has promulgated regulations, pursuant
to the Act, outlining a five-step process for determining
disability of adults. See 20 C.F.R.
the agency evaluates whether the claimant is "doing
substantial gainful activity." If so, the agency
concludes that the claimant is not disabled. 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i), (b); 416.920(a)(4)(i), (b).
if the claimant is not engaging in substantial gainful
activity, the agency determines whether the claimant has a
"severe medically determinable physical or medical
impairment that meets the duration requirement ... or a
combination of impairments that is severe and meets