Pacensa v Astrue, --- F.Supp.2d ----, 2012 WL 993079, Civil Action No. 11-10113-WGY (March 26, 2012)
Rep Sandra Smales. Remand.
A younger individual with high school education and a history of unskilled past relevant work filed an SSDI and SSI application alleging disability due to borderline personality disorder, depression, and hypothyroidism. The Disability Review Board affirmed the decision of the hearing officer who concluded that the plaintiff’s borderline personality disorder did not reduce her occupational and found that she was capable of a wide range of unskilled work according to the SSA Occupational Vocational Guidelines (Grids). The court noted that in the First Circuit, the Commissioner may rely exclusively on the Grids as a “framework” to satisfy his burden at step five even where a nonexertional impairment is significant if it only reduces the occupational base “marginally.” Ortiz, 890 F.2d at 524. However, in Ortiz where the First Circuit affirmed a hearing officer's denial of benefits based upon the Grids, the court cautioned that a hearing officer “typically should err on the side of taking vocational evidence.” Id. at 528. The court noted that with respect to mental impairments, the relevance of the Grids entails two separate determinations: (1) whether a claimant can perform close to the full range of unskilled work, and (2) whether she can conform to the demands of a work setting, regardless of the skill level involved. Id. This inquiry required a close consideration of the hearing officer's assessment of residual functional capacity. In the present case, the hearing officer reached his decision without taking any vocational testimony despite the evidence (including the opinions of the DDS consultant) that showed numerous limitations stemming from the plaintiff’s borderline personality disorder and depression. The hearing officer's general finding that plaintiff’s borderlines personality disorder does not reduce the occupational base of unskilled work is unsupported by substantial evidence. Accordingly, the hearing officer's denial of benefits based solely on the Grids was not appropriate.