United States District Court, D. New Hampshire
Glenn R. Young,
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration Opinion No. 2014 DNH 233
LANDYA McCAFFERTY, District Judge.
Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), Glenn Young moves to reverse the Acting Commissioner's decision to deny his application for Social Security disability insurance benefits, or DIB, under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 423, and for supplemental security income, or SSI, under Title XVI, 42 U.S.C. § 1382. The Acting Commissioner, in turn, moves for an order affirming her decision. For the reasons that follow, the decision of the Acting Commissioner, as announced by the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), is affirmed.
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 DIB decisions); 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 a decision of the 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 (doc. no. 11). That statement is part of the court's record and will be summarized here, rather than repeated in full.
Young first applied for DIB and SSI in 2011 at the age of 35. He alleged disability due to, among other conditions, back and hip pain. Sometime prior to 2008, Young was involved in a motor-vehicle accident in which he injured his hip. Young completed the ninth grade of high school and cannot read or write.
Young submitted numerous medical records with his application, which include the following records of medical imaging. Young had two x-rays in May of 2008. An x-ray of his lumbar spine showed no abnormalities and no degenerative changes. An x-ray of Young's hip revealed mild calcification of the hip joint and a small chip fracture. A repeat x-ray of Young's left hip in November of 2009 was normal.
Young had two Magnetic Resonance Imaging ("MRI") studies of his lumbar spine in 2012. In February, an MRI showed mild degenerative changes. In November, an MRI revealed minimal anterior spondylolisthesis,  mild degenerative disc-space narrowing, minimal spinal stenosis,  a mild disc bulge, and multilevel degenerative facet disease.
Young had an x-ray of his hips in May of 2012. That image showed no fracture or dislocation and minimal joint-space narrowing in both hip joints.
Young's records also document his complaints of back and hip pain and various treatments he has received for that pain. Beginning in 2010, Young was treated at Paincare Center. There, he received pain medication and epidural steroid injections to treat both his back and hip pain. In February of 2012, his Paincare Center treatment provider, Donna Flynn, noted that she was "unsure why he has so much pain still in light of the recent normal MRI, despite relatively significant dosages of both long and short acting meds." Tr. 817.
Young's records also document participation in physical therapy. From December of 2011 to January of 2012 he made eight visits to a physical therapist. However, Young stopped this form of treatment because he felt it was not helping him. In a note connected with these visits, the physical therapist indicated that Young's reactions to the therapist touching his back were consistent with "symptom magnification, " or overstating his pain symptoms.
Young's DIB and SSI application was denied in November of 2011 and Young requested a hearing before an ALJ. ALJ Jonathan Baird conducted a hearing on October 24, 2012. At that hearing the ALJ took testimony from Young and a vocational expert ("VE"). Specifically, Young testified that in 2010, his left side back and hip pain became so severe he could no longer work. Young testified that his left leg felt swollen and numb with tingling in his left foot. Young testified that he took meloxicam, methadone, and oxycodone to alleviate his pain, but that the medications caused stomachaches, nausea, and constipation.
Young also testified about his daily activities and residual functional capacity. He described helping his son get ready for school and walking him to the bus, which is about 30 feet from his house. After helping his son, Young stated that he needed to take a break to alleviate his pain. He testified that he could mow his lawn for 20 to 30 minutes and help with housework such as vacuuming and washing dishes. But Young also testified that he could no longer play outside with his son, ride bicycles, ride motorcycles, or work on cars due to his back pain. He stated that if he did work on cars he could only do so for 20 to 30 minutes before needing to rest. Young stated that he could not lift 15 pounds, and if he attempted to lift 10 pounds "it would hurt." Tr. 56. Young stated that he could walk for 20 to 30 minutes at a time. Young testified that if he was offered a full-time job at which he could sit most of the time, but had the option to change positions, he would try to work.
After the hearing, the ALJ issued a decision that includes the following relevant findings of fact and conclusions of law:
3. The claimant has the following severe impairments:
lumbar degenerative disc disease, left hip arthritis, tinnitus, migraine headaches, and a learning disability (20 ...