United States District Court, D. New Hampshire
STEVEN J. McAULIFFE, District Judge.
Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), claimant, Susan Robar, moves to reverse or vacate the Commissioner's decision denying her 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 granted to the extent it seeks a remand for further proceedings, and the Commissioner's motion is denied.
I. Procedural History.
In 2010, claimant filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits, alleging that she had been unable to work since March 8, 2007 (she subsequently amended her alleged onset date to February 27, 2010). That application was denied and she requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ").
In January of 2012, claimant, her attorney, and a vocational expert appeared before an ALJ, who considered claimant's application de novo. Two weeks later, the ALJ issued his written decision, concluding that claimant was not disabled, as that term is defined in the Act, at any time before her alleged onset date through the date of his decision (January 27, 2012). Id. at 24.
Claimant then sought review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council, which denied her 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, she 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. 9). In response, the Commissioner filed a "Motion for Order Affirming the Decision of the Commissioner" (document no. 12). 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. 11), 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).
II. The Parties' Respective Burdens.
An individual seeking Social Security disability 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). 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 she demonstrates an inability to perform her ...