United States District Court, D. New Hampshire
OPINION NO. 2014 DNH 238
STEVEN J. McAULIFFE, District Judge.
Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), claimant, Jessica Green, moves to reverse or vacate the Acting Commissioner's decision denying, in part, her applications for Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, and Supplemental Security Income Benefits under Title XVI, 42 U.S.C. §§ 423 and 1381-1383c (collectively, the "Act"). The Acting Commissioner objects and moves for an order affirming her decision.
For the reasons discussed below, claimant's motion is granted, and the Acting Commissioner's motion is denied.
I. Procedural History.
In January of 2011, claimant filed applications for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"), alleging that she had been unable to work since November 20, 2010 (when she was involved in a serious motor vehicle accident). Those applications were denied and claimant requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ").
In July of 2012, claimant and her attorney appeared before an ALJ, who considered claimant's application de novo. Two weeks later, the ALJ issued a partially favorable decision, concluding that claimant was disabled with respect to both her DIB and SSI claims from November 10, 2010 through November 10, 2011. But, the ALJ also concluded that claimant was no longer disabled as of November 11, 2011. Claimant then sought review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council. Her request was denied. Accordingly, the ALJ's partially favorable decision became the final decision of the Acting Commissioner, subject to judicial review. Subsequently, claimant filed a timely action in this court, asserting that the ALJ's decision is not supported by the Decision of the Commissioner" (document no. 11). Those motions are now ripe.
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. 12), 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." Consolidate 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). 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); Poane v. Schweiker, 530 F.Supp. 808, 810-11 (D. Mass. 1982). If the claimant demonstrates an inability to perform her previous work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to ...