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Howard v. Colvin

United States District Court, District of New Hampshire

February 10, 2014

David B. Howard, Claimant
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant


Steven J. McAuliffe United States District Judge

Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), claimant, David Howard, moves to reverse or vacate the Commissioner’s decision denying his application for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 423 (the “Act”). The Commissioner objects and moves for an order affirming her decision.

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

Factual Background

I. Procedural History.

In 2010, claimant filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits, alleging that he had been unable to work since October 31, 2008. That application was denied and claimant requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”).

In September of 2011, claimant and his attorney appeared before an ALJ, who considered claimant’s application de novo. Four weeks later, the ALJ issued his written decision, concluding that claimant retained the residual functional capacity to perform the physical and mental demands of sedentary work, “except the claimant is limited from performing more than simple, repetitive tasks.” Admin. Rec. at 37. Although claimant’s limitations precluded him from performing any of his past relevant work, the ALJ concluded that there was still a significant number of jobs in the national economy that he could perform. Id. at 40. Accordingly, the ALJ determined that claimant was not disabled, as that term is defined in the Act, at any time prior to the date of his decision. Id.

Claimant then sought review of the ALJ’s decision by the Appeals Council, which denied his request for review. Accordingly, the ALJ’s denial of claimant’s application for benefits became the final decision of the Commissioner, subject to judicial review. Subsequently, claimant filed a timely action in this court, asserting that the ALJ’s decision is not supported by substantial evidence. He then filed a “Motion for Order Reversing Decision of the Commissioner” (document no. 13). In response, the Commissioner filed a “Motion for Order Affirming the Decision of the Commissioner” (document no. 15). Those motions are pending.

II. Stipulated Facts.

Pursuant to this court’s Local Rule 9.1, the parties have submitted a “Joint Statement of Material Facts” which, because it is part of the court’s record (document no. 16), 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). 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).

This court’s review of the ALJ’s decision is, therefore, both limited and deferential. The court is not empowered to consider claimant’s application de novo, nor may it undertake an independent assessment of whether he is disabled under the Act. Rather, the court’s inquiry is “limited to determining whether the ALJ deployed the correct legal standards and found facts upon the proper quantum of evidence.” Nguyen v. Chater, 172 F.3d 31, 35 (1st Cir. 1999). Provided the ALJ’s findings are properly supported by substantial evidence, the court must sustain those findings even when there may also be substantial evidence supporting the contrary position. See, ...

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