Woodford argues that the ALJ did not have sufficient evidence
at the administrative hearing to determine that she had
sufficient residual functional capacity to engage in sedentary
work. (Pl. Mem. at 26). An ALJ commits legal error when he makes
a residual functional capacity determination based on medical
reports that do not specifically explain the scope of claimant's
work-related capabilities. See Rivera-Torres v. Sec. of Health &
Human Servs., 837 F.2d 4, 7 (1st Cir. 1988) (collecting cases);
see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1512(e) (discussing an ALJ's
affirmative duty to develop the administrative record on facts
essential to his determination). For the ALJ to make a proper
determination about Woodford's residual functional capacity to
engage in sedentary work, he was required to review evidence that
showed whether she could sit for six hours of an eight hour
workday, do a certain amount of walking and standing, and lift up
to ten pounds. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567.
The court's review of the administrative hearing evidence shows
that no medical evidence was presented that established whether
Woodford could remain seated for six hours. Dr. Kulak's and Dr.
Dickson's reports indicated that Woodford had difficulty walking
and relied on a cane and air cast. (Tr. at 147-48, 155). Dr.
Seo's report indicated that Woodford had difficulty "standing,
walking, and carrying heavy objects," and had no difficulty
moving from a sitting to a standing position. (Tr. at 136, 138).
Additionally, both Dr. Dickson and Dr. Seo reported that Woodford
had no difficulty getting off and on the examination table. (Tr.
at 136, 155). The ALJ was not permitted to speculate about
Woodford's capacity to remain seated based on these medical
reports; rather, he had a duty to defer his decision until he
procured medical evidence that specifically discussed Woodford's
capacity to remain seated for six hours. See Murphy,
872 F. Supp. at 1158.
Indeed, the ALJ compounded his error when he concluded that
Woodford could perform sedentary work because she testified that
she cooked and shopped for herself, and used public
transportation. (Tr. at 36). "Such activities do not by
themselves contradict allegations of disability," as people
should not be penalized for enduring the pain of their disability
in order to care for themselves. Boyd, 1999 WL 1129055 at *3
(explaining that a claimant's ability to engage in self-care and
other domestic activities does not by itself establish that the
claimant is not disabled). The only other evidence supporting the
ALJ's determination was Woodford's testimony that she sat through
a plane ride to Portugal during her alleged period of disability.
(Tr. at 32). However, the mere fact that someone is able to
remain seated for a plane ride does not establish that he can sit
for six hours on a regular basis. Cf. LaFace v. Heckler,
589 F. Supp. 192, 197 (S.D.N.Y. 1984) (Sand, J.) (noting that
claimant's ability to sit through a seventy-eight minute hearing
was not probative of his ability to perform sedentary work).
As the above analysis demonstrates, the ALJ's decision
regarding Woodford's capacity to perform sedentary work is not
supported by substantial evidence, and remand is required. Also,
the supplementary evidence Woodford submitted to the Appeals
Council indicates that the ALJ's decision must be reconsidered,
as Dr. Kulak's February, 1997 letters directly refute the ALJ's
determination that Woodford is capable of remaining seated for
six hours. (Tr. at 9-13).
Since the ALJ previously recognized Dr. Kulak as Woodford's
treating physician, (Tr. at 64), the Commissioner is required
on remand to apply the treating physician's rule in reviewing Dr.
Kulak's February, 1997 letters. See Rivera, 923 F.2d at 968.
Specifically, he must afford the February, 1997 letters
controlling weight, provided that the information in the letters
does not contradict evidence already admitted to the
administrative record, and the letters' diagnoses are based on
accepted clinical procedures.*fn13 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(d)(2).
If the Commissioner determines that the letters should not be
afforded controlling weight, he must specifically indicate the
weight this evidence is to be given, and the reasons for his
decision. Snell v. Apfel, 177 F.3d 128, 133 (2d Cir. 1999).
Woodford also alleges that the ALJ erred when he found that her
subjective pain testimony was overstated and not credible. (Pl.
Mem. at 28). A claimant's subjective pain may, when supported by
other facts, establish that a claimant has a disability. See
20 C.F.R. § 404.1529(a). The claimant's testimony regarding
subjective pain must be supported by signs and laboratory
findings which show that the claimant has a medical impairment
which could reasonably be expected to produce the pain. Id.
The record indicates that the Commissioner improperly weighed
the evidence corroborating claimant's subjective pain testimony.
Woodford testified that she felt knife-like pain and numbness in
her left ankle after sitting for fifteen to twenty minutes, and
pain in her ankle from swelling. (Tr. at 82, 66-67). The
testimony has support in the administrative record, which shows
that Woodford repeatedly complained to her doctors about numbness
and pain in her left ankle.*fn14 (See, e.g., Tr. at 145
(complaining of "sleepy feeling" in her ankle); Tr. at 151
(complaining of pain)). The record also shows that Woodford was
diagnosed as having degenerative osteoarthritis, a condition
which causes pain, and with scarring and calcification of her
ankle tendons and ligaments, (Tr. at 142, 145 & 151), a condition
which causes loss of sensation and pain. (Tr. at 152-53).
Furthermore, the record indicates that Woodford consistently took
anti-inflammatory drugs to treat her injuries, and had scaled
back her activities because of pain. (See, e.g., Tr. at 80-81,
140, 146, 151). On remand, the Commissioner is required to
reconsider Woodford's testimony regarding her subjective pain in
light of the evidence highlighted above.*fn15
The Commissioner's decision denying claimant SSDI benefits is
reversed and remanded for reconsideration in accordance with this
opinion. This case may be reviewed by the Appeals Council or
remanded to an ALJ. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.983. Regardless of
where the review occurs, the Commissioner is directed to: (1)
consider all of claimant's treating doctor's reports when making
his determination about claimant's residual functional capacity
to perform sedentary work; and (2) to re-examine claimant's
testimony in light of the evidence discussed above.
IT IS SO ORDERED.