United States District Court, D. New Hampshire
John P. Chippendale, Claimant,
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.
ORDER OPINION NO. 2015 DNH 008.
STEVEN J. McAULIFFE, District Judge.
Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), claimant, John P. Chippendale, moves to reverse or vacate the Acting Commissioner's decision denying his applications for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 423 (the "Act"). The Acting Commissioner objects and moves for an order affirming her decision.
For the reasons discussed below, claimant's motion is denied, and the Acting Commissioner's motion is granted.
I. Procedural History
On August 2, 2011, claimant filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits, alleging that he had been unable to work since August 1, 2010, due to blindness in his right eye caused by central retinal artery occlusion and double vision in his left eye, osteoarthritis of his knees, post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD"), and tinnitus. That application was denied on December 22, 2011, and claimant requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), at which time claimant also amended his claim to include intermittent bilateral shoulder pain.
On December 27, 2012, claimant, appearing pro se, and a vocational expert appeared before an ALJ, who considered claimant's application de novo. The next day, the ALJ issued his written decision, 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. Claimant then filed a "Motion for Order Reversing the Decision of the Commissioner" (document no. 6). In response, the Commissioner filed a "Motion for Order Affirming the Decision of the Commissioner" (document no. 8). 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. 9), 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); see also Irlanda Ortiz v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 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).
This court's review of the ALJ's decision is, therefore, both limited and deferential. The court is not empowered to consider claimant's application de novo, nor may it undertake an independent assessment of whether he is disabled under the Act. Rather, the court's inquiry is "limited to determining whether the ALJ deployed the correct legal standards and found facts upon the proper quantum of evidence." Nguyen v. Chater, 172 F.3d 31, 35 (1st Cir. 1999). Provided the ALJ's findings are properly supported by substantial evidence, the court must sustain those findings even when there may also be substantial evidence supporting the contrary position. ...