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Anderson v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

November 4, 2014

Amanda Beth Anderson,
v.
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration Opinion 2014 DNH 232

ORDER

LANDYA McCAFFERTY, District Judge.

Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), Amanda Beth Anderson moves to reverse the Acting Commissioner's decision to deny her application for supplemental security income ("SSI") under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 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 decisions on claims for disability insurance benefits); 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)).

Background

The parties have submitted a Joint Statement of Material Facts, document no. 12. That statement is part of the court's record and will be summarized here, rather than repeated in full.

Anderson first applied for SSI in June of 2011. She alleged disability due to bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, calcifications of the brain, scoliosis, [1] and fibromyalgia.[2] Administrative Transcript (hereinafter "Tr.") 122.

In August of 2011, Anderson completed a function report in connection with her SSI application. In that report, she reported difficulty interacting with other people and extreme pain in her back, hips, shoulders, and hands. She also reported daily migraine headaches. Despite those symptoms, Anderson stated that she: (1) was able to care for her children with the help of a roommate; (2) was able maintain her personal care, except that she had trouble bending and balancing; and (3) could drive, shop for groceries, and handle money.

In September 2011, two state-agency consulting doctors rendered opinions on Anderson's residual functional capacity[3] ("RFC"). Dr. James Trice, a physician, reviewed Anderson's medical records and rendered an opinion on her physical RFC. Dr. William Jamieson, a clinical psychologist, reviewed Anderson's medical records and rendered an opinion on her mental RFC.

In that same month, Anderson also saw Dr. Edouard Carignan, a clinical psychologist, for a consultative evaluation. Anderson told Dr. Carignan that she had no difficulty with household activities and that she did not need assistance when shopping or managing money. Dr. Carignan diagnosed Anderson with anxiety and OCD.[4] He noted diagnoses of scoliosis, asthma, and migraines "by history." With respect to Anderson's functional capacity, he wrote that Anderson "would have extensive difficulty interacting with a supervisor who would insist that the work be completed in a manner other than the manner in which she found acceptable." Tr. 350. He also noted that Anderson would have no psychological difficulty in performing activities of daily living, understanding or remembering instructions, or in concentrating or completing tasks.

In January of 2011, Anderson saw her primary healthcare provider, Sonya Gilbert, a physician's assistant. Gilbert evaluated Anderson and completed a function report. In that report, Gilbert noted diagnoses of depression, anxiety, fibromyalgia, joint pain, and asthma. Gilbert opined that due to Anderson's physical limitations, she could perform sedentary activities, but nothing more. With respect to Anderson's mental impairments, Gilbert found her to be markedly limited in her ability to interact with others and to maintain attention for extended periods of time, and found her to be mildly to moderately limited in several other areas of mental functioning.

In October 2012, Gilbert completed a Medical Source Statement of Ability to do Work-Related Activities. Tr. 757-65. Gilbert stated that Anderson could frequently carry and lift up to ten pounds, and occasionally carry and lift eleven to twenty pounds. Gilbert also stated that Anderson could perform activities such as: (1) shopping; (2) climbing a few steps at a reasonable pace with the use of a single handrail; (3) preparing a simple meal and feeding herself; and (4) caring for her personal hygiene. However, Gilbert also noted that Anderson "has severe anxiety and is unable to shop alone [or] leave the house alone." Tr. 766.

In addition to the above mentioned function reports, Anderson's record contains numerous medical records dating from January 2011. Those records include treatment notes from the Alpine Clinic, Paincare Centers, Littleton Regional Hospital, Weeks Medical Center, and Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center.

Anderson's application for SSI benefits was denied in September 2011, and she requested a hearing before an ALJ. In October 2012, ALJ Matthew Levin conducted a hearing at which he heard testimony from Anderson and a vocational expert ("VE"). At that hearing Anderson testified about her activities of daily living and her limitations. After the hearing, the ALJ issued a decision that includes the following relevant findings of fact and conclusions of law:

2. The claimant has the following severe impairments:
depression, anxiety with OCD, and fibromyalgia (20 CFR 416.920(c)).
....
3. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 416.920(d), 416.925 and 416.926).
....
4. After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b) except she can occasionally perform fine manipulation bilaterally. She is able to maintain attention and concentration for two-hour increments throughout a workday, but would have to do so in a low stress environment (defined as requiring limited to no change in the work setting and little to no judgment), the ...

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