United States District Court, D. New Hampshire
JOSEPH DiCLERICO, Jr., District Judge.
Pamela Mohr 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 social security disability benefits. Mohr moves to reverse and remand the decision, contending that the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") erred in assessing her treating physician's opinion and in finding that she could do her past relevant work at a telecommunications company. 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.
Mohr filed for disability insurance benefits in January of 2012. When her application was denied initially, she requested a hearing before an ALJ, which was held on May 14, 2013. Mohr was fifty-seven years old at the time of the hearing. Her educational background includes a four-year college degree and prior work, until 2007, for a telecommunications company.
The medical record begins in January of 2011 when Mohr saw her primary care physician, Dr. Andrew Sebastyan, because of pain and numbness when she walked, a cough, a sleep problem, and abdominal pain and nausea. Dr. Sebastyan found edema and decreased sensation in Mohr's legs and advised her to drink less alcohol. Subsequent treatment notes by Dr. Sebastyan and Carol Pelletier, APRN, DNP show that when Mohr presented with sleep problems and other ailments, she was advised to drink less alcohol but did not comply with that advice. Mohr also refused to use a CPAP machine for sleep apnea.
In June of 2012, Dr. Sebastyan prepared a functional assessment opinion for Mohr in which he diagnosed Mohr with various ailments but did not mention Mohr's use of alcohol. With respect to function, Dr. Sebastyan wrote that Mohr had frequent problems with concentration, could sit for only fortyfive minutes with a total of four hours in a work day, could stand for five minutes with standing and walking for a total of two hours in a work day, would need to elevate her legs at heart level for sixty percent of a work day, and needed to use a cane. He thought Mohr could occasionally lift ten pounds, had a variety of reaching limitations, would have good and bad days, and would be absent at least two days each month.
Mohr was represented by counsel and testified at the hearing held in May of 2013. She said that foot pain kept her from working, that she often had to lie down to reduce the pain, swelling, and numbness in her legs, and that Dr. Sebastyan suggested that she use a cane. Mohr also testified that she had stopped drinking on January 1, 2013, and described her previous work at a telecommunications company.
A vocational expert appeared and testified at the hearing. The vocational expert said that Mohr's description of her past work sounded like a combination of two jobs listed in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles, "laborer stores" and customer service representative. Mohr's attorney argued that dividing the past job into two categories would be inappropriate.
The ALJ issued a decision on June 14, 2013, in which he found that Mohr had severe impairments of alcoholic neuropathy, sleep apnea, and obesity. He found that she had the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work with some postural limitations and that she could do her past work at a telecommunications company, as that work was actually performed. Based on those findings, the ALJ concluded that Mohr was not disabled. The Appeals Council denied review.
Mohr contends that the ALJ's decision must be reversed and remanded because he erred in giving little weight to Dr. Sebastyan's opinion, in failing to consider Dr. Sebastyan's opinion about absenteeism, and in relying on a clerical error by the Social Security Administration to find that Mohr could do her past work. The Acting Commissioner moves to affirm, arguing that the ALJ properly evaluated Dr. Sebastyan's opinion and that ...