United States District Court, D. New Hampshire
STEVEN J. McAULIFFE, District Judge.
Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), claimant, Angelia Newell, moves to reverse or vacate the Commissioner's decision denying her application for Supplemental Security Income Benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383c (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.
I. Procedural History.
In 2008, claimant filed an application for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"), alleging that she had been unable to work since June 25, 2000. She subsequently amended that date to February 26, 2008. That application was denied and claimant requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). In October of 2009, the ALJ held a hearing and, approximately one month later, issued a decision in which he concluded that claimant was not disabled under the Act. The Decision Review Board selected claimant's application for review and, on February 12, 2010, remanded the case to the ALJ for a new hearing and decision.
The ALJ held a second hearing in May of 2011, at which claimant, her attorney, and an impartial vocational expert all appeared. Approximately two months later, the ALJ issued a new decision, again finding that claimant was not disabled within the meaning of the Act. The Appeals Council denied claimant's request for review and the ALJ's adverse decision 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 and seeking a judicial determination that she is disabled within the meaning of the Act. Claimant then filed 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. 13). Those motions are pending.
II. Stipulated Facts.
Pursuant to this court's Local Rule 9.1, the parties have submitted a statement of stipulated facts which, because it is part of the court's record (document no. 15), 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), 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).
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 she 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, e.g., ...