United States District Court, District of New Hampshire
Meagan M. White, Claimant
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant Opinion No. 2014 DNH 037
Steven J. McAuliffe United States District Judge
Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), Claimant, Meagan M. White, moves to reverse the Commissioner’s decision denying her application for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act (the “Act”) and Supplemental Security Income Benefits under Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 423, 1381, et seq. See document no. 9. The Commissioner objects and moves for an order affirming her decision, document no. 11.
I. Procedural History
On March 23, 2009, claimant (who was then 24 years old) filed an application for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB benefits”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”), alleging that she had been unable to work since February 17, 2009. She asserts eligibility for benefits based on disabilities due to depression and anxiety. Her application for benefits was denied and she requested an administrative hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).
On November 7, 2011, claimant, her attorney, and an impartial vocational expert appeared before an ALJ. On December 9, 2011, the ALJ issued a written decision, finding that claimant was not disabled. On August 16, 2012, the Appeals Council denied claimant’s request for review. Accordingly, the ALJ’s decision became the final decision of the Commissioner, subject to judicial review.
II. Stipulated Facts
Pursuant to Local Rule 9.1(d), the parties submitted a Joint Statement of Material Facts, which is part of the court record (doc. no. 12), and need not be recounted in detail in this opinion.
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).
Consequently, provided the ALJ’s findings are properly supported, the court must sustain those findings even when there may also be substantial evidence supporting the contrary position. See, e.g., Tsarelka v. Secretary of Health & Human Services, 842 F.2d 529, 535 (1st Cir. 1988); Rodriguez v. Secretary of Health & Human Services, 647 F.2d 218, 222 (1st Cir. 1981).
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). See also 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3). 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 the claimant demonstrates an inability to perform her previous work, the ...