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Blamire v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

May 26, 2015

Virginia Blamire,
v.
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration.

ORDER

LANDYA McCAFFERTY, District Judge.

Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), Virginia Blamire moves to reverse the Acting Commissioner's decision to deny her application for Social Security disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 423. 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). However, the court "must uphold a denial of social security disability 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 Acting 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 a decision of the 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.

Blamire has been diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis, which is "the occurrence of psoriasis and polyarthritis, resembling rheumatoid [arthritis]... and often involving the digits." Stedman's Medical Dictionary 160 (28th ed. 2006). Rheumatoid arthritis, in turn, is "a generalized disease... which primarily affects connective tissue... involving many joints, especially those in the hands and feet. [and which is] often chronic and progressive, leading to deformities and disability." Id . Blamire's treatment has included several forms of medication.

With respect to Blamire's ability to perform work-related activities, the record includes: (1) an assessment of Blamire's physical residual functional capacity[1] completed by a Social Security single decision maker[2] in December of 2011; (2) a "Medical Source Statement of Ability to do Work-Related Activities (Physical)" completed by Dr. Andree Phillips, Blamire's treating rheumatologist, in January of 2012; and (3) a second medical source statement completed by Dr. Phillips in October of 2012.

In her second statement, Dr. Phillips opined that Blamire: (1) could never lift or carry more than 20 pounds, but could occasionally lift or carry up to 20 pounds and could frequently lift or carry up to 10 pounds; (2) could sit for one hour without interruption and for eight hours in an eight-hour work day; (3) could stand for one hour without interruption and for four hours in an eight-hour work day; (4) could walk for one hour without interruption and for two hours in an eight-hour work day; (5) did not need a cane to ambulate; (6) could occasionally use either hand for reaching, handling, fingering, feeling, and pushing/pulling; (7) could occasionally use either foot to operate foot controls; (8) could never climb stairs, ramps, ladders or scaffolds but could occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. With regard to environmental limitations, Dr. Phillips opined that Blamire (1) could not tolerate exposure to unprotected heights, humidity, wetness, or extreme heat or cold; (2) could tolerate occasional exposure to moving mechanical parts, operating a motor vehicle, and vibrations; and (3) could tolerate moderate (office) noise. Finally, Dr. Phillips opined that Blamire was able to: (1) perform activities like shopping; (2) travel without a companion for assistance; (3) ambulate without an assistive device; (4) walk a block at a reasonable pace on rough or uneven surfaces; (5) use standard public transportation; (6) climb a few steps at a reasonable pace with the use of a single hand rail; (7) prepare a simple meal and feed herself; (8) care for her personal hygiene; and (9) sort, handle, or use paper/files.

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 impairment: psoriatic arthritis (20 CFR 404.1520(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), 404.1525 and 404.1526).
....
5. After careful consideration of the entire record, I find that the claimant has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) allowing her to lift and carry up to twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently; sit, stand, or walk for one-hour periods of time each but overall sit up to eight hours per day, stand up to four hours per day, and walk up to two hours per day; occasionally climb ramps or stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl but never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffold[s]; occasionally reach, handle, finger, feel, push, or pull; and she would need to avoid unprotected heights, exposure to ...

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