United States District Court, District of New Hampshire
Karen B. Fitzmaurice, Esq., Tamara N. Gallagher, Esq., Robert J. Rabuck, Esq.
Joseph A. DiClerico, Jr. United States District Judge
Elizabeth Mudgett seeks judicial review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), of the decision of the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, denying her application for supplemental security income benefits. In support of reversing the decision, Mudgett contends that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in failing to find appropriate limitations in the mental residual functional capacity assessment. The Acting Commissioner moves to affirm.
Standard of Review
In reviewing the final decision of the Acting Commissioner in a social security case, the court “is limited to determining whether the ALJ deployed the proper legal standards and found facts upon the proper quantum of evidence.” Nguyen v. Chater, 172 F.3d 31, 35 (1st Cir. 1999); accord Seavey v. Barnhart, 276 F.3d 1, 9 (1st Cir. 2001). The court defers to the ALJ’s factual findings as long as they are supported by substantial evidence. § 405(g). “Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Astralis Condo. Ass’n v. Sec’y Dep’t of Housing & Urban Dev., 620 F.3d 62, 66 (1st Cir. 2010). Substantial evidence, however, “does not approach the preponderance-of-the-evidence standard normally found in civil cases.” Truczinskas v. Dir., Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs, 699 F.3d 672, 677 (1st Cir. 2012).
Mudgett filed an application for supplemental security income benefits in July of 2011, when she was twenty-six years old, alleging a disability since July of 2007, which was later amended to July of 2011. She claimed disabling impairments due to the effects of depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”), insomnia, and addiction. Mudgett previously worked doing collections and in sales.
Although the joint statement of material facts does not provide a detailed chronology of Mudgett’s criminal history, she testified that she had a felony record. Mudgett was arrested for armed robbery when she was sixteen and for burglary when she was seventeen and was incarcerated on more than one occasion after that time. Her medical records indicate that she was incarcerated for at least part of the period between January of 2005 and March of 2011.
Mudgett was evaluated and treated for mental health issues through October of 2012. In general, the treatment notes indicate that she had anxiety, suffered from depression, and sometimes had a flat mood and affect, but was oriented in three spheres, denied suicidal ideation, and was assigned GAF scores in the 60s. She attempted to work at times, but she apparently was unable to sustain full-time work.
On August 30, 2011, Julianna Read, Ph.D. conducted a psychological consultative examination of Mudgett. Dr. Read found that Mudgett met the criteria for PTSD, social anxiety disorder, and major depressive disorder. Mudgett was then working part time in her father’s landscaping business and in doing promotions for Lowe’s and Home Depot. She was able to drive, could handle her own finances, and helped with chores around the house. Mudgett reported that she had nightmares and that she would forget to eat for days.
Dr. Read found that Mudgett was able to attend to all of her daily activities but would not always carry through because of exhaustion caused by anxiety and depression. She also found that Mudgett could interact and communicate appropriately although with a general mistrust and high anxiety; she could understand and remember material; she could maintain attention, concentration, and her schedule; she could make simple decisions; and she could interact appropriately with supervisors.
After her application for benefits was denied, a hearing before an ALJ was held on October 2, 2012. Mudgett testified that she could not work because of her moods, because she was unable to sleep, and because she thinks other people are “either tearing her apart or watching her.” She did not think her medications were helping her symptoms. Mudgett testified that she had not been capable of staying focused, functioning, or working five days in a row since 2011. At the hearing, Mudgett and her counsel explained that she was about to enter a residential treatment program for substance abuse.
The ALJ issued her decision on January 17, 2013. The ALJ found that Mudgett had severe impairments due to PTSD, affective disorder, and a history of substance abuse. Because of those impairments, the ALJ found that Mudgett was limited to doing uncomplicated tasks, typical of those found in unskilled work. The ALJ determined that Mudgett’s impairments had little or no effect on her ability to do unskilled work, which directed a finding that she was not disabled pursuant ...