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Andrew Travis Fawcett v. Michael J. Astrue

May 16, 2012

ANDREW TRAVIS FAWCETT, CLAIMANT
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, RESPONDENT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Steven J. McAuliffe United States District Judge

Opinion No. 2012 DNH 085

ORDER

Claimant, Andrew Fawcett, moves to reverse the Commissioner's denial of his application for children's Supplemental Security Insurance disability benefits. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) (the "Act"). Among other things, he says the Administrative Law Judge who authored the Commissioner's final decision erred in concluding that his impairment did not meet, medically equal, or functionally equal a listed impairment. Respondent objects and moves for an order affirming the final decision of the Commissioner.

For the reasons set forth below, claimant's Motion for An Order Reversing the Decision of the Commissioner, document no. 11, is denied. The Commissioner's Motion for Order Affirming the Decision of the Commissioner, document no. 12, is granted.

Factual Background

I. Procedural History

On March 31, 2009, when claimant was a minor, an application for Supplemental Security Income benefits was filed on his behalf. The application asserted that claimant became disabled as of February 1, 2006, as a result of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, limited attention span, and a learning disability. The Social Security Administration denied his application.

Pursuant to claimant's request, on December 10, 2010, an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") conducted a hearing on claimant's application and considered his claims de novo. Claimant, represented by counsel, appeared and testified. Claimant's mother also testified. The ALJ issued his order on January 3, 2011, concluding that claimant was not entitled to benefits because he did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met, medically equaled, or functionally equaled any listed impairment. The Decision Review Board selected the ALJ's decision for review, but did not complete its review within the time allowed. Accordingly, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner, subject to judicial review.

In response, claimant filed this timely action, asserting that the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence and seeking a judicial determination that he is disabled within the meaning of the Act. Claimant then filed a "Motion for An Order Reversing the Decision of the Commissioner," document no. 11. The Commissioner objected and filed a "Motion for An Order Affirming the Decision of the Commissioner," document no. 12. Those motions are pending.

II. Stipulated Facts

Pursuant to Local Rule 9.1(d), the parties have submitted a comprehensive statement of stipulated facts which, because it is part of the court's record (document no. 13), need not be recounted in this opinion. Those facts relevant to the disposition of this matter are discussed as appropriate.

Standard of Review

I. Properly Supported Factual Findings by the ALJ are Entitled to Deference.

Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the court is empowered "to enter, upon the pleadings and transcript of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing." Factual findings of the Commissioner are conclusive if supported by substantial evidence. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3); Irlanda Ortiz v. Secretary of Health & Human Services, 955 F.2d 765, 769 (1st Cir. 1991).*fn1

Moreover, provided the ALJ's findings are supported by substantial evidence, the court must sustain those findings even when there may also be substantial evidence supporting the adverse position. See Tsarelka v. Secretary of Health & Human Services, 842 F.2d 529, 535 (1st Cir. 1988) ("[W]e must uphold the [Commissioner's] conclusion, even if the record arguably could justify a different conclusion, so long as it is supported by substantial evidence."). See also Rodriguez v. Secretary of Health & Human Services, 647 F.2d 218, 222 (1st Cir. 1981) ("We must uphold the [Commissioner's] findings in this case if a reasonable mind, reviewing the evidence in the record as a whole, could accept it as adequate to support his conclusion.").

In making factual findings, the Commissioner must weigh and resolve conflicts in the evidence. See Burgos Lopez v. Secretary of Health & Human Services, 747 F.2d 37, 40 (1st Cir. 1984) (citing Sitar v. Schweiker, 671 F.2d 19, 22 (1st Cir. 1982)). It is "the responsibility of the [Commissioner] to determine issues of credibility and to draw inferences from the record evidence. Indeed, the resolution of conflicts in the evidence is for the [Commissioner] not the courts." Irlanda Ortiz, 955 F.2d at 769 (citation omitted). Accordingly, the court will give deference to the ALJ's credibility determinations, particularly where those determinations are supported by specific findings. See ...


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