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Raymond Dubois v. Michael J. Astrue

June 20, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joseph N. Laplante United States District Judge

Opinion No. 2012 DNH 109


This is an appeal from the denial of Raymond Dubois's application for Social Security benefits. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). An administrative law judge ("ALJ") found that Dubois, though suffering from severe impairments of tibial tendinitis and bilateral pes planus, was not disabled because he retained the residual functional capacity to perform light work, including his past relevant work as a telemarketer. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(e)-(f), 416.920(e)-(f).

Dubois has moved for an order reversing that decision, see L.R. 9.1(b)(1), arguing that the ALJ's findings were not supported by substantial evidence. The Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("SSA") has cross-moved for an order affirming that decision, see L.R. 9.1(d), arguing to the contrary. This court has subject-matter jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (Social Security). After reviewing the administrative record, the parties' joint statement of material facts, and their respective memoranda, the court concludes that the ALJ's findings were supported by substantial evidence in the record. The court accordingly denies Dubois's motion and grants the Commissioner's motion.

I. Applicable legal standard

This court's review under § 405(g) is "limited to determining whether the ALJ deployed the proper legal standards and found facts upon the proper quantum of evidence." Nguyen v. Chater, 172 F.3d 31, 35 (1st Cir. 1999). The ALJ is responsible for determining issues of credibility, resolving conflicting evidence, and drawing inferences from the evidence in the record. See Rodriguez v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 647 F.2d 218, 222 (1st Cir. 1981). If the ALJ's factual findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record, i.e., "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion," Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quotations omitted), they are conclusive, even if the court does not agree with the ALJ's decision and other evidence supports a contrary conclusion. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Tsarelka v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 842 F.2d 529, 535 (1st Cir. 1988). The ALJ's findings are not conclusive, however, if they were "derived by ignoring evidence, misapplying the law, or judging matters entrusted to experts." Nguyen, 172 F.3d at 35.

II. Background

Pursuant to this court's local rules, the parties filed a Joint Statement of Material Facts (document no. 14), which is part of the record reviewed by the court. See LR 9.1(d). This court will briefly recount the key facts and otherwise incorporates the parties' joint statement by reference.

In August 2009, Dubois, who was 58 years old at the time, filed applications for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. He claimed that, as of April 1, 2009, he suffered from arthritis, tendinitis, and diabetic neuropathy that limited his ability to stand and caused him severe pain. Admin. R. at 167. Those conditions, Dubois said, had forced him to reduce his work to a part-time schedule and, because they continued to worsen, would likely cause him to stop working entirely. Id.

The SSA initially denied Dubois's applications on October 23, 2009, after determining that his condition was not severe enough to prevent him from working. Id. at 60, 69-74; see also id. at 184. Dubois appealed that decision to the ALJ, see generally 20 C.F.R. § 405.301 et seq., who held a hearing on Dubois's application on January 4, 2011. Prior to the hearing, Dubois submitted a number of medical records pre- and postdating the alleged onset of his disability, as well as notarized statements from several of his acquaintances who attested to a decline in his physical condition. At the hearing, Dubois testified to his previous work history and the nature of his medical complaints. A vocational expert engaged by the SSA also appeared and testified at the hearing.

The record evidence showed that Dubois began to experience back pain in late 2006 and was diagnosed with acute, mild lumbar facet syndrome. See generally Admin. R. at 225-43. A little over a year later, in November 2007, Dubois began complaining of foot pain and was initially diagnosed with plantar fasciitis.

Id. at 339-40. That pain continued to increase, and in June 2008, Dubois was diagnosed with tibialis tendinitis and pes plano valgus.*fn1 Id. at 320-24. Though Dubois's podiatrist warned him of the danger of deformity and disability at that time, and instructed him to modify his shoes and obtain arch supports, id. at 323, Dubois still had not obtained supportive insoles by September of that year. See id. at 308.

Dubois continued to complain of foot pain in 2009. He reported to his primary care provider that he always experienced some pain in his feet, but that the pain increased if he was standing. Id. at 284. On March 10, 2009, Dubois's podiatrist opined that his tibialis tendinitis had deteriorated. Id. at 282. In late April 2009 (after Dubois's alleged onset of disability), however, Dubois reported that his foot pain was a "2 out of 10," and his podiatrist opined that his tibialis tendinitis had improved, and that his right tendinitis was "improving with arch support." Id. at 280.

Notwithstanding that supposed improvement, Dubois continued to complain of foot and leg pain throughout 2009 and into 2010. See, e.g., id. at 268, 421-23, 427-29. He was referred to physical therapy, id. at 414, which, in April 2010, revealed that Dubois had a stand tolerance of "~ 2 hrs. - 2 1/2 hrs." and that, although he had gotten stronger, his functioning was still limited. Id. at 437. In August 2010, Dubois's podiatrist opined that he "would benefit from [a] brace and modification of work activity to less than 3.5 hours weightbearing in one work period." Id. at 395-96. The podiatrist ...

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