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CLOUTIER v. APFEL

September 23, 1999

MICHELINE CLOUTIER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
KENNETH S. APFEL, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Larimer, Chief Judge.

DECISION AND ORDER

INTRODUCTION

This is an action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to review the final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security ("the Commissioner") that plaintiff was not disabled under the Social Security Act, and therefore, was not entitled to disability benefits. Both plaintiff and the Commissioner have moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to FED.R.CIV.P. 12(c). For the reasons outlined below, the Court finds that the Commissioner's decision was not supported by substantial evidence and accordingly remands the matter for further administrative proceedings.

PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Micheline B. Cloutier ("Cloutier") applied for Social Security disability benefits on February 17, 1995. (T. 87).*fn1 The Social Security Administration denied her application initially and upon reconsideration. (T. 91, 118). Plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"), and hearings were held in the case on March 12, 1996 and February 10, 1997. (T. 29-86). On March 27, 1997, the ALJ issued a decision in which she found that plaintiff could still perform her past work as a cook and housekeeper and therefore was not entitled to disability benefits. (T. 13-19). The ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner on May 4, 1998 when the Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review. (T. 5-6). Pursuant to section 405(g) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), plaintiff commenced this action on July 7, 1998, seeking review by this Court of the Commissioner's final decision.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Cloutier was born on November 27, 1943. (T. 34). Claiming that she has been unable to work since May 10, 1994 due to a back injury and aneurysm, plaintiff seeks disability benefits. (T. 13, 93). Cloutier attended but never completed high school. (T. 37). She formerly worked as a dietary aide, cook, and housekeeper. (T. 38).

The medical records contained in the file delineate a long history of plaintiff's complaints of back, leg and arm pain. She sought treatment for back pain from a variety of practitioners, including orthopaedic surgeons, chiropractors, and at a pain center.

In 1988, plaintiff appears to have suffered a stroke, and in February 1995, plaintiff was hospitalized after a cerebral aneurysm was detected. A craniotomy was performed to repair the aneurysm.

In 1996, plaintiff was referred for a psychological examination. Plaintiff was measured with a verbal IQ of 79, and a full-scale IQ of 76. The attending psychologist diagnosed plaintiff with dysthymic disorder and cognitive disorder.

Cloutier's long-term treating physician, Dr. Arluck, completed a physical capacities evaluation form on August 1, 1996 that indicated that Cloutier could only stand and walk three hours per eight hour work day, and could only lift up to five pounds frequently.*fn2 (T. 350).

With respect to plaintiff's cognitive difficulties, the ALJ stated:

  "The ALJ concludes that the relatively low IQ scores
  . . . are undoubtedly because she was born in Quebec
  and English is not her native language. . . . [T]he
  plaintiff was given a diagnosis of dysthymic
  disorder. However, the mental residual functional
  capacity evaluation ...

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