United States District Court, D. New Hampshire
ORDER Opinion No. 2015 DNH 087.
JOSEPH DiCLERICO, Jr., District Judge.
Joseph Lucier seeks judicial review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), of the decision of the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, denying his application for supplemental security income. Lucier moves to reverse and remand the decision, contending that the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") erred in assessing the medical opinion evidence, failed to consider all of his impairments, erred in finding that he could perform light work with additional limitations, and lacked substantial evidence to support the finding that he 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).
The background information is summarized from the parties' joint statement of material facts, document no. 8.
Lucier was fifty-two years old when he applied for supplemental security income. He has an eighth grade education, and he previously worked as a construction laborer. In support of his application, Lucier stated that he had been disabled since June 1, 2007, because of eye problems; back, hip, and leg pain and weakness; chronic migraines; fibromyalgia; learning disabilities; attention deficit disorder; depression; and anxiety.
Lucier's treatment records begin in November of 2008 with a visit to Concord Hospital Family Health Center. Lucier stated that he had had chronic low back pain and that he was taking methadone and ibuprofen for the pain. On examination, the physician found some reduced mobility, no spinal tenderness, and normal neurological functioning. Subsequent treatment notes from the period up to July of 2010 show that Lucier continued to complain of back pain and had essentially normal examination results with some tenderness. The record shows no evidence of treatment between July of 2010 and January of 2012.
For purposes of his application for Medicaid benefits, Lucier had a psychological evaluation done by William Dinan, Ph.D., on February 1, 2012. Dr. Dinan found that Lucier had moderate functional limitations in daily activities and social interactions, that he often had difficulty sustaining concentration, persistence, and pace for work tasks, and that he experienced repeated deterioration and decompensation in response to work stress. Dr. Dinan diagnosed a depressive disorder, not otherwise specified, and found that Lucier was unlikely to return to gainful employment even if he complied with recommended treatment.
Matthew Masewic, M.D., a state agency consultant, did a physical examination of Lucier on February 21, 2012. Lucier complained of hip, leg, and knee pain, related a history of headaches, and said that his primary care physician had mentioned that he might have fibromyalgia. Dr. Masewic found that Lucier's neurological functioning was intact and found inconsistent results in Lucier's leg strength because Lucier's claimed inability to flex his hips and raise his legs was contradicted by his demonstrated ability to bend and walk. Dr. Masewic found no trigger points associated with fibromyalgia.
Dr. Masewic concluded that Lucier likely had chronic mechanical back pain but it was unclear what was causing Lucier's broader complaints of pain. He also stated that if he took Lucier's complaints as true the muscle aches and pains would have a moderate effect on his functional capacity and the knee pain would have a mild to moderate effect on his functional capacity. He found no trigger points to support a fibromyalgia diagnosis.
Jonathan Jaffe, M.D., a state agency physician, reviewed Lucier's medical record and provided his opinion about Lucier's functional capacity on February 24, 2012. Dr. Jaffe found that Lucier had a functional capacity to do light work but had some limitations in his ability to do postural activities.
In late March of 2012, Dr. Windler did a physical examination of Lucier for his application for Medicaid benefits. Based on his examination and Lucier's complaints and history, Dr. Windler diagnosed likely degenerative spondylosis of the lumbar spine, likely right rotator cuff tear, traumatic knee arthritis, deconditioning, and headaches. Despite his opinion of fair or poor prognoses for these conditions, Dr. Windler also thought that the conditions could be improved with treatment. In his functional assessment, Dr. Windler found that Lucier could lift, carry, walk, sit, and stand within the range of sedentary work but that he had limited ability to push and pull and could never do certain postural activities.
Michael Evans, M.D. did a consultative psychiatric evaluation of Lucier on April 12, 2012. Dr. Evans diagnosed alcohol dependence in remission and dysthymia (a mild but chronic form of depression) and also noted "rule out" a schizoid personality disorder. In Dr. Evans's opinion, despite his difficulty in social situations and in interacting appropriately with other people, Lucier was able to understand and remember instructions, communicate effectively, sustain attention and concentration, make simple decisions, maintain attendance and schedules, and interact appropriately with supervisors. Dr. Evans also noted that Lucier had doubled ...