United States District Court, D. New Hampshire
Thomas J. Hainey, Claimant,
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.
ORDER Opinion No. 2014 DNH 254.
STEVEN J. McAULIFFE, District Judge.
Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), claimant, Thomas Hainey, moves to reverse or vacate the Acting Commissioner's decision denying his applications for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") Benefits under the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 423 and 1381-1383c (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 2009, claimant filed applications for DIB and SSI benefits, alleging that he had been unable to work since July 18, 2007. In May of 2011, an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") denied those applications. But, upon review, the Decision Review Board remanded the case for further consideration. Accordingly, in August of 2012, claimant, his attorney, and a vocational expert appeared before an ALJ, who considered claimant's applications de novo. Three months later, on November 30, 2012, the ALJ issued his written decision, again concluding that claimant was not disabled, as that term is defined in the Act, at any time prior to the date of his decision.
The Appeals Council denied claimant's request for review, making the ALJ's denial of claimant's applications 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 substantial evidence. He then filed a "Motion for an Order Reversing the ALJ Decision" (document no. 9). In response, the Acting Commissioner filed a "Motion for an Order Affirming the Decision of the Commissioner" (document no. 10). 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 DIB and/or SSI 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 his impairment prevents him from performing his 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 his previous work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to ...