United States District Court, D. New Hampshire
STEVEN J. McAULIFFE, District Judge.
Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), claimant, Stephen John Langone, moves to reverse or vacate the Acting Commissioner's decision denying his application 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 May 9, 2011, claimant filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits, alleging that he had been unable to work since January 15, 2009, due to depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. That application was denied on August 23, 2011, and claimant requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ").
On October 4, 2012, claimant - represented by counsel - his wife, and a vocational expert appeared before an ALJ, who considered claimant's application de novo. On October 19, 2012, 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 essentially that the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence, the ALJ failed to adequately develop the record, and claimant did not receive a full and fair hearing. Claimant then filed a "Motion for Order Reversing the Decision of the Secretary" (document no. 7). In response, the Commissioner filed a "Motion for Order Affirming the Decision of the Commissioner" (document no. 9). 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. 10), 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 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 proper 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. See, e.g., Tsarelka v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 842 F.2d 529, 535 (1st Cir. 1988); Rodriguez v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 647 F.2d 218, 222 (1st Cir. 1981).
II. The Parties' Respective Burdens
An individual seeking DIB 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). 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. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 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 show that there are other jobs in the national economy that he can perform, in light of his age, education, and prior work experience. See Vazquez v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 683 F.2d 1, 2 (1st Cir. 1982); see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1512(f).
In assessing a disability claim, the Commissioner considers both objective and subjective factors, including: (1) objective medical facts; (2) the claimant's subjective claims of pain and disability, as supported by the testimony of the claimant or other witnesses; and (3) the claimant's educational background, age, and work experience. See, e.g., Avery v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 797 F.2d 19, 23 (1st Cir. 1986); Goodermote v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 690 F.2d 5, 6 (1st Cir. 1982). Ultimately, a claimant is disabled only if his:
physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy, regardless of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he lives, or whether ...