United States District Court, D. New Hampshire
STEVEN J. McAULIFFE, District Judge.
Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), claimant, David Wayne Eldridge, moves to reverse or vacate the Acting Commissioner's decision denying his applications for Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act and Supplemental Security Income Benefits under Title XVI, 42 U.S.C. §§ 423 and 1381-1383c (collectively, the "Act"). The Acting Commissioner objects and moves for an order affirming her decision.
For the reasons discussed below, claimant's motion is denied, and the Acting Commissioner's motion is granted.
I. Procedural History
In December 2011, claimant filed applications for Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income, alleging that he had been unable to work since November 12, 2008. Those applications were denied, and claimant requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ").
In June 2013, claimant, represented by an attorney, and a vocational expert appeared before an ALJ, who considered claimant's application de novo. Ten days later, the ALJ issued her written decision, concluding that claimant was not "disabled, " as that term is defined in the Act. Claimant then sought review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council. His request was denied. Accordingly, the ALJ's denial of claimant's applications for benefits became the final decision of the Acting Commissioner, subject to judicial review. Subsequently, claimant filed a timely action in this court, asserting that the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence. Claimant then filed a "Motion for Reversal of Commissioner's Denial of Benefits" (document no. 15). In response, the Acting Commissioner filed a "Motion for an Order Affirming the Decision of the Commissioner" (document no. 17). Those motions are now ripe.
II. Stipulated Facts
Pursuant to this court's Local Rule 9.1, the parties have submitted a statement of stipulated facts which, because it is part of the court's record (document no. 18), need not be recounted in this opinion. Those facts relevant to the disposition of this matter are discussed as appropriate.
Standard of Review
I. "Substantial Evidence" and Deferential Review
Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the court is empowered "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." Factual findings and credibility determinations made by the Commissioner are conclusive if supported by substantial evidence. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3); see also Irlanda Ortiz v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 955 F.2d 765, 769 (1st Cir. 1991). Substantial evidence is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938). It is something less than a preponderance of the evidence, so the possibility of drawing two inconsistent conclusions from the evidence does not prevent an administrative agency's finding from being supported by substantial evidence. Consolo v. Federal Maritime Comm'n., 383 U.S. 607, 620 (1966); see also Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971).
This court's review of the ALJ's decision is, therefore, both limited and deferential. The court is not empowered to consider claimant's application de novo, nor may it undertake an independent assessment of whether he is disabled under the Act. Rather, the court's inquiry is "limited to determining whether the ALJ deployed the correct legal standards and found facts upon the proper quantum of evidence." Nguyen v. Chater, 172 F.3d 31, 35 (1st Cir. 1999). Provided the ALJ's findings are properly supported by substantial evidence, the court must sustain those findings even when there may also be substantial evidence supporting the contrary position. See, e.g., Tsarelka v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 842 F.2d 529, 535 (1st Cir. 1988); Rodriguez v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 647 F.2d 218, 222 (1st Cir. 1981).
II. The Parties' Respective Burdens
An individual seeking Social Security disability and supplemental security income benefits is disabled under the Act if he or she is unable "to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); see also 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3). The Act places a heavy initial burden on the claimant to establish the existence of a disabling impairment. See Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146-47 (1987); Santiago v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 944 F.2d 1, 5 (1st Cir. 1991). To satisfy that burden, the claimant must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that her impairment prevents her from performing her former type of work. See Gray v. Heckler, 760 F.2d 369, 371 (1st Cir. 1985); Paone v. Schweiker, 530 F.Supp. 808, 810-11 (D. Mass. 1982). If the claimant demonstrates an inability to perform her previous work, the burden shifts to the ...