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Reynolds v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

May 22, 2015

Pamela Reynolds,
v.
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration.

ORDER Opinion No. 2015 DNH 104.

LANDYA McCAFFERTY, District Judge.

Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), Pamela Reynolds moves to reverse the Acting Commissioner's decision to deny her application for Social Security disability insurance benefits, or DIB, under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 423, and for supplemental security income, or SSI, under Title XVI, 42 U.S.C. § 1382. The Acting Commissioner, in turn, moves for an order affirming her decision. For the reasons that follow, the decision of the Acting Commissioner, as announced by the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") is affirmed.

Standard of Review

The applicable standard of review in this case provides, in pertinent part:

The [district] court shall have power 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. The findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive....

42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (setting out the standard of review for DIB decisions); see also 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3) (establishing § 405(g) as the standard of review for SSI decisions). However, the court "must uphold a denial of social security... benefits unless the [Acting Commissioner] has committed a legal or factual error in evaluating a particular claim.'" Manso-Pizarro v. Sec'y of HHS, 76 F.3d 15, 16 (1st Cir. 1996) (quoting Sullivan v. Hudson, 490 U.S. 877, 885 (1989)).

As for the statutory requirement that the Commissioner's findings of fact be supported by substantial evidence, "[t]he substantial evidence test applies not only to findings of basic evidentiary facts, but also to inferences and conclusions drawn from such facts." Alexandrou v. Sullivan, 764 F.Supp. 916, 917-18 (S.D.N.Y. 1991) (citing Levine v. Gardner, 360 F.2d 727, 730 (2d Cir. 1966)). In turn, "[s]ubstantial evidence is more than [a] mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'" Currier v. Sec'y of HEW, 612 F.2d 594, 597 (1st Cir. 1980) (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). But, "[i]t is the responsibility of the [Acting Commissioner] to determine issues of credibility and to draw inferences from the record evidence. Indeed, the resolution of conflicts in the evidence is for the [Acting Commissioner], not the courts." Irlanda Ortiz v. Sec'y of HHS, 955 F.2d 765, 769 (1st Cir 1991) (citations omitted). Moreover, the court "must uphold the [Acting Commissioner's] conclusion, even if the record arguably could justify a different conclusion, so long as it is supported by substantial evidence." Tsarelka v. Sec'y of HHS, 842 F.2d 529, 535 (1st Cir. 1988). Finally, when determining whether the decision of the Acting Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence, the court must "review[ ] the evidence in the record as a whole." Irlanda Ortiz, 955 F.2d at 769 (quoting Rodriguez v. Sec'y of HHS, 647 F.2d 218, 222 (1st Cir. 1981)).

Background

The parties have submitted a Joint Statement of Material Facts (document no. 12). That statement is part of the court's record and will be summarized here, rather than repeated in full.

Reynolds has not worked since October of 2012. Before that, she had a number of different jobs. Up until 2004, she was an electronics assembly worker. See Administrative Transcript (hereinafter "Tr.") 193.

With respect to her physical condition, Reynolds has been diagnosed with sleep apnea, carpal tunnel syndrome, and hypothyroidism. Her treatment has included a CPAP mask for sleep apnea and splints for her carpal tunnel syndrome. With respect to her mental condition, she has been diagnosed with depression and mood disorder. Treatment for her mental conditions has included a variety of medications, individual counseling, group counseling, and a partial hospital program.

The record includes an assessment of Reynolds's physical residual functional capacity, [1] made by a non-examining stateagency physician, Dr. Hugh Fairley. See Tr. 48-50. Dr. Fairley determined that Reynolds had the capacity to lift and/or carry 20 pounds occasionally and could lift and/or carry 10 pounds frequently. He also found that she was capable of standing and/or walking and sitting for about six hours in an eight-hour workday. With respect to postural activities, Dr. Fairley opined that Reynolds was able to occasionally climb ramps/stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. Finally, he determined that she had no manipulative, visual, or communicative limitations, and had an unlimited ability to deal with all environmental situations other than hazards such as machinery and heights, to which she could tolerate no exposure.

The record also includes documentation of a Psychiatric Review Technique completed by Dr. Laura Landerman. Dr. Landerman determined that Reynolds had: (1) mild restrictions of her activities of daily living; (2) mild difficulties in maintaining social functioning; (3) mild difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence or pace; and (4) no episodes of decompensation of extended duration. In performing her assessment, Dr. Landerman gave primary weight to a report by Dr. Joan Scanlon, which was based upon an examination of Reynolds.

Dr. Scanlon, in turn, diagnosed Reynolds with dysthymic disorder, [2] panic disorder without agoraphobia, post-traumatic stress disorder, and pain disorder associated with her general medical condition. See Tr. 373. As to Reynolds's level of functioning, Dr. Scanlon had this to say:

A. Activities of Daily Living:... [C]laimant possesses essential skills of daily living, exemplified in her prior work as a housekeeper. She is thereby able to complete household tasks, obtain needed funds, assist with meal preparation, and wash dishes. She presents as somewhat limited in this area due to her mood and level of motivation.
B. Social Functioning:... [C]laimant has had a long history of difficulty establishing relationships dating to her childhood years. However, she related appropriately to coworkers and supervisors in most work positions, and thus is not limited in this domain.
C. Understanding and Remembering Instructions:... [C]laimant is able to understand and remember locations and work-like procedures, understand and recall very short and simple instructions, if not more detailed in nature. She does not present as limited in this sphere.
D. Concentration and Task Completion:... [C]laimant is able to maintain simple information processing if not more complex in nature, and maintain persistence and pace to complete tasks. She does not present as limited in this domain.
E. Reaction to Stress, Adaptation to Work or Work-Like Situations:... [C]laimant is sufficiently able to tolerate stresses in the work setting, render simple decisions, and maintain a schedule. Her limitations reside in her level of motivation, mood, and physical constraints.

Tr. 373.

After conducting a hearing, the ALJ issued a decision that includes the following relevant findings of fact and conclusions of law:

3. The claimant has the following severe impairments: sleep apnea, hypothyroidism, mild hip joint narrowing, obesity, depression and anxiety (20 CFR 404.1520(c) and 416.920(c)).
....

4. The claimant does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20 CFR Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (20 CFR 404.1520(d), ...


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