United States District Court, D. New Hampshire
JOSEPH DICLERICO, Jr., District Judge.
Rachel Lyn Grant 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. Grant moves to reverse and remand the decision, contending that the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") erred in concluding that she was not disabled. 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).
The background information is summarized from the parties' joint statement of material facts, document no. 10.
Grant was twenty years old when she first applied for social security benefits. While Grant was in school, testing results showed that she was in the average to low average range of intellectual functioning, and she was diagnosed or coded with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder ("ADHD"). Grant received special education services beginning in preschool. She is a high school graduate and worked at Dunkin Donuts until sometime in 2010. Grant has two children.
After Grant applied for supplemental security income, she was evaluated by Joseph F. Wojcik, Ph.D for the Maine Disability Determination Services. Based on test results, Grant's intellectual functioning was determined to be in the borderline classification for intelligence. Dr. Wojcik thought that the test scores were not representative of Grant's overall ability to function and that she could grasp directions with one or two steps and do routine job assignments.
On July 30, 2012, Jason Merrin, Ph.D., evaluated Grant's mental status based on an examination and his review of her records. Dr. Merrin noted that Grant had a slow flow of cognition but no psychotic symptoms and that she reported no anxiety or panic symptoms. Grant's mental status test provided normal results. During examination on a second test, Grant had attention and concentration within normal limits but showed borderline working habits, poor frustration tolerance, borderline rapport with Dr. Merrin, and a sullen mood and affect. Her scores on that test were in the borderline range. In Dr. Merrin's opinion, Grant could manage her own funds as long as she maintained her medications, but she might need assistance with delayed memory. Dr. Merrin also noted that Grant's persistence was borderline, her sustained concentration was within normal limits when she was medicated, her daily activities seemed intact, but her social interaction and adaptation were impaired.
Lewis F. Lester, Ph.D., reviewed Grant's record on August 10, 2012. Dr. Lester found that Grant had understanding and memory limitations, concentration and persistence limitations, social interaction limitations, and adaptation limitations. Despite her limitations, Dr. Lester found that Grant could understand and remember simple tasks and procedures, could be reliable and sustain consistent pace in two-hour blocks in a work day and week, and could interact with co-workers and supervisors but not the general public. He also found that the diagnosis of ADHD was not established by the record.
On March 27, 2013, Grant was examined by Jeffrey M. Wagner, Ph.D., at the request of Grant's attorney. Based on his examination and review of Grant's records, Dr. Wagner diagnosed major depression, pain disorder, social anxiety disorder, ADHD, and borderline intellectual functioning. He found that Grant was incapable of sustaining independent and full-time gainful employment.
After her application for benefits was denied, Grant requested a hearing before an ALJ that was held on April 9, 2013. Grant testified at the hearing that she graduated from high school but attended special education classes while in school and had the most difficulty with reading, spelling, and writing. She also said that she had difficulty focusing and that she experienced panic attacks and depression a couple of times each week.
Grant testified that she had a driver's license and a car but her boyfriend drove her places in the car. She testified that her boyfriend's parents helped her take care of her baby boy. She also said that she usually had someone else with her when she went out because she did not like to go out or to shop alone.
The ALJ issued the decision on Grant's application on April 26, 2013. The ALJ found that Grant had severe impairments which were "an organic mental disorder/borderline intellectual functioning with associated learning disorder and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder; and an affective disorder/depression." Despite those impairments, the ALJ found that Grant had the residual functional capacity to perform a full exertional range of work, with simple instructions and simple tasks on a consistent schedule and that she could interact with coworkers and supervisors but not the general public. The ALJ also found that Grant could adapt to occasional routine changes in the workplace. Because the ALJ found that Grant's non-exertional limitations did not significantly erode ...