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Leslie Rakip v. Michael J. Astrue

May 23, 2012

LESLIE RAKIP, CLAIMANT
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Steven J. McAuliffe Chief Judge

Opinion No. 2012 DNH 093

ORDER

Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), claimant, Leslie Rakip, moves to reverse the Commissioner's decision denying her applications for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income Benefits, under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 423 and 1381-1383c (the "Act"). The Commissioner objects and moves for an order affirming his decision.

For the reasons discussed below, claimant's motion is denied, and the Commissioner's motion is granted.

Factual Background

I. Procedural History.

In 2007, claimant filed applications for Disability

Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income Benefits, alleging that she had been unable to work since January 1, 1999. Her claims were denied, and she requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). After reviewing all the record evidence, the ALJ issued a partially favorable ruling, concluding that claimant had been disabled since February 18, 2008. Claimant appealed to this court, seeking a determination that she was disabled approximately nine years earlier, on January 1, 1999. Subsequently, the Commissioner filed an assented-to motion to remand the matter to the ALJ for further evaluation of claimant's mental impairments, in accordance with the special technique described in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520a and 416.920a. The court (Laplante, C.J.) granted that motion. See Rakip v. Commissioner, No. 09-cv-380-JL. The Decision Review Board vacated the ALJ's (partially favorable) decision in its entirety and remanded the matter to the ALJ for further proceedings.

Accordingly, on November 30, 2010, the ALJ conducted another hearing. Claimant (accompanied by her attorney), an impartial vocational expert, and an impartial medical expert appeared and testified. Approximately two months later, the ALJ issued a decision denying claimant's applications for benefits. Once again, claimant filed a timely appeal to this court, followed by a "Motion for Order Reversing Decision of the Commissioner" (document no. 10). In response, the Commissioner filed a "Motion for Order Affirming the Decision of the Commissioner" (document no. 11). Those motions are pending.

II. Stipulated Facts.

Pursuant to this court's Local Rule 9.1(d), the parties have submitted a statement of stipulated facts which, because it is part of the court's record (document no. 12), need not be recounted in this opinion. Those facts relevant to the disposition of this matter are discussed as appropriate.

Standard of Review

I. "Substantial Evidence" and Deferential Review.

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 and credibility determinations made by the Commissioner are conclusive if supported by substantial evidence. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). See also Irlanda Ortiz v. Secretary of Health & Human Services, 955 F.2d 765, 769 (1st Cir. 1991). Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938). It is something less than a preponderance of the evidence, so the possibility of drawing two inconsistent conclusions from the evidence does not prevent an administrative agency's finding from being supported by substantial evidence. Consolo v. Federal Maritime Comm'n., 383 U.S. 607, 620 (1966). See also Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). Consequently, provided the ALJ's findings are properly supported, the court must sustain those findings even when there may also be substantial evidence supporting the contrary position. See, e.g., Tsarelka v. Secretary of Health & Human Services, 842 F.2d 529, 535 (1st Cir. 1988); Rodriguez v. Secretary of Health & Human Services, 647 F.2d 218, 222 (1st Cir. 1981).

II. The Parties' Respective Burdens.

An individual seeking Social Security benefits is disabled under the Act if he or she is unable "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). See also 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3). The Act places a heavy initial burden on the claimant to establish the existence of a disabling impairment. See Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146-47 (1987); Santiago v. Secretary of Health & Human Services, 944 F.2d 1, 5 (1st Cir. 1991). To satisfy that burden, the claimant must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that her impairment prevents her from performing her former type of work. See Gray v. Heckler, 760 F.2d 369, 371 (1st Cir. 1985); Paone v. Schweiker, 530 F. Supp. 808, 810-11 (D. Mass. 1982). If the claimant demonstrates an inability to perform her previous work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that there are other jobs in the national economy that she can perform. See Vazquez v. Secretary of Health & Human Services, 683 F.2d 1, 2 (1st Cir. 1982). See also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1512(g) and 416.912(g).

In assessing a disability claim, the Commissioner considers both objective and subjective factors, including: (1) objective medical facts; (2) the claimant's subjective claims of pain and disability, as supported by the testimony of the claimant or other witnesses; and (3) the claimant's educational background, age, and work experience. See, e.g., Avery v. Secretary of Health & Human Services, 797 F.2d 19, 23 (1st Cir. 1986); Goodermote v. Secretary of Health & Human Services, 690 F.2d 5, 6 (1st Cir. 1982). Ultimately, a claimant is disabled only if her: physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that [she] is not only unable to do [her] previous work but cannot, considering [her] age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the ...


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