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Morin v. Colvin

United States District Court, First Circuit

January 23, 2014

Rene J. Morin
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration No. 2014 DNH 009


Landya McCafferty United States District Judge

Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), Rene Morin moves to reverse the Acting Commissioner’s decision to deny his application for supplemental security income, or SSI, under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1382. The Acting Commissioner, in turn, moves for an order affirming her decision. For the reasons that follow, this matter is remanded to the Acting Commissioner for further proceedings consistent with this order.

Standard of Review

The applicable standard of review in this case provides, in pertinent part:

The [district] court shall have power 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. The findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive

42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (setting out the standard of review for decisions on claims for disability insurance benefits); see also 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3) (establishing § 405(g) as the standard of review for SSI decisions). However, the court “must uphold a denial of social security . . . benefits unless ‘the [Commissioner] has committed a legal or factual error in evaluating a particular claim.’” Manso-Pizarro v. Sec’y of HHS, 76 F.3d 15, 16 (1st Cir. 1996) (quoting Sullivan v. Hudson, 490 U.S. 877, 885 (1989)).

As for the statutory requirement that the Commissioner’s findings of fact be supported by substantial evidence, “[t]he substantial evidence test applies not only to findings of basic evidentiary facts, but also to inferences and conclusions drawn from such facts.” Alexandrou v. Sullivan, 764 F.Supp. 916, 917-18 (S.D.N.Y. 1991) (citing Levine v. Gardner, 360 F.2d 727, 730 (2d Cir. 1966)). In turn, “[s]ubstantial evidence is ‘more than [a] mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.’” Currier v. Sec’y of HEW, 612 F.2d 594, 597 (1st Cir. 1980) (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). But, “[i]t 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 v. Sec’y of HHS, 955 F.2d 765, 769 (1st Cir. 1991) (citations omitted). Moreover, the court “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.” Tsarelka v. Sec’y of HHS, 842 F.2d 529, 535 (1st Cir. 1988). Finally, when determining whether the decision of the Acting Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence, the court must “review[] the evidence in the record as a whole.” Irlanda Ortiz, 955 F.2d at 769 (quoting Rodriguez v. Sec’y of HHS, 647 F.2d 218, 222 (1st Cir. 1981)).


The parties have submitted a Joint Statement of Material Facts, document no. 17. That statement is part of the court’s record and will be summarized here, rather than repeated in full.

Morin was injured in an automobile accident in 1989. As a result, he was unable to return to his employment as a drywall installer. Thereafter, he was supported by his sister, for whom he provided various forms of household assistance. That arrangement ended in July of 2012, when Morin’s sister asked him to move out of her home, which rendered him essentially homeless. In 2007, Morin suffered a heart attack, and in June of 2011, he suffered another cardiac incident that fell short of a full-scale heart attack.[1]

Morin has been diagnosed with: (1) depressive disorder, not elsewhere classified; post-traumatic stress disorder; and generalized anxiety disorder: (2) depressive disorder, NOS;[2] and (3) depressive disorder, NOS, rule out major depressive disorder, single episode, severe;[3] rule out post-traumatic stress disorder; generalized anxiety disorder; social anxiety disorder; rule out attention deficit disorder; and cannabis dependence, in remission. His treatment has consisted of medication and counseling.

In March of 2012, Dr. Darlene Gustavson performed a consultative examination on Morin and completed a Mental Health Evaluation Report on him. Her examination included “[a] brief mental status examination using the Folstein Mini Mental Status Exam (MMSE) [on which Morin achieved a] score of 29/30, ” Administrative Transcript (“hereinafter “Tr.”) 334. Based upon her examination, Dr. Gustavson found that Morin was able to: (1) “properly care for personal affairs, do shopping, cook, use public transportation, pay bills, maintain his residence, and care for grooming and hygiene, ” Id. at 335; (2) “interact appropriately and communicate effectively with family members, neighbors, friends, landlord, fellow employees, and supervisors, ” id.; (3) “understand and remember locations and work-like procedures, to understand and remember very short and simple as well as detailed instructions as demonstrated on the MMSE and observations throughout the interview, ” id.; (4) “sustain attention and concentration, persistence and pace and to complete tasks as demonstrated on the MMSE and observations during the interview, ” Id. at 336; and (5) “tolerate stresses common to a work environment which includes ability to make decisions and interact with supervisors and consistently maintain attendance and schedule, ” id.

In March of 2012, Dr. Laura Landerman, a state-agency reviewing psychologist, conducted a Psychiatric Review Technique assessment of Morin, based upon a review of his mental-health records. With respect to the “Paragraph B” criteria for affective disorders, Listing 12.04, see 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt. P, App. 1 § 12.04B, Dr. Landerman determined that Morin had no restriction of his activities of daily living; mild difficulties in maintaining both social functioning and concentration, persistence, or pace; and no repeated episodes of decompensation of extended duration. See Tr. 71.

About a month after Dr. Gustavson examined Morin, and about two weeks after Dr. Landerman reviewed his mental-health records, Morin attempted suicide and was admitted to the psychiatric unit of the Elliot Hospital Emergency Department. He was discharged three days later.

In August of 2012, Morin’s counsel directed a Mental Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”) Questionnaire to Shawne Diaz, a counselor at Elliot Behavioral Health Services (“Elliot BHS”). Diaz had provided Morin with counseling on seventeen occasions over the previous six months. The completed questionnaire was signed by both Diaz and Dr. Kenneth Lerner, also of Elliot BHS. Dr. Lerner began seeing Morin in the fall of 2011, referred him to Diaz in January of 2012, and continued to see him after the referral. By the time he signed the questionnaire, Dr. Lerner had seen Morin ten times. In the space on the questionnaire that asked for “Examination dates, ” the response is: “1-26-12 – 8-13-12, ” Tr. 338, a time span that corresponds with Diaz’s ...

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