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Otero v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

August 27, 2015

Daniel Richard Otero, Sr.
v.
Carolyn Colvin, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration Opinion No. 2015 DNH 161

Raymond J. Kelly, Esq.

T. David Plourde, Esq.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Paul Barbadoro United States District Judge

Daniel Richard Otero, Sr. appeals the Commissioner’s denial of his applications for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits. He argues that the Administrative Law Judge (the “ALJ”) omitted a material nonexertional limitation from his residual functional capacity (“RFC”) finding and impermissibly made alternative findings at both step four and step five of the Social Security Administration’s sequential evaluation process. For the reasons I explain below, I deny Otero’s request for remand and affirm the decision of the Commissioner.

I. BACKGROUND

Pursuant to this Court’s Local Rule 9.1, the parties have submitted a statement of stipulated facts (Doc. No. 14). See LR 9.1. Because this statement is part of the Court’s record, I need not recount it here. Facts relevant to the disposition of this matter are discussed as necessary below.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

42 U.S.C. § 405(g) authorizes me to review the pleadings submitted by the parties and the administrative record and enter a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the “final decision” of the Commissioner. My review “is limited to determining whether the ALJ used the proper legal standards and found facts [based] upon the proper quantum of evidence.” Ward v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 211 F.3d 652, 655 (1st Cir. 2000). Findings of fact made by the ALJ are accorded deference as long as they are supported by substantial evidence. Id. Substantial evidence to support factual findings exists “‘if a reasonable mind, reviewing the evidence in the record as a whole, could accept it as adequate to support his conclusion.’” Irlanda Ortiz v. Sec’y of Health & Human Servs., 955 F.2d 765, 769 (1st Cir. 1991) (per curiam) (quoting Rodriguez v. Sec’y of Health & Human Servs., 647 F.2d 218, 222 (1st Cir. 1981)). If the substantial evidence standard is met, factual findings are conclusive even if the record “arguably could support a different conclusion.” Id. at 770. Findings are not conclusive, however, if they are derived by “ignoring evidence, misapplying the law, or judging matters entrusted to experts.” Nguyen v. Chater, 172 F.3d 31, 35 (1st Cir. 1999) (per curiam). The ALJ is responsible for determining issues of credibility and for drawing inferences from evidence in the record. Irlanda Ortiz, 955 F.2d at 769. It is the role of the ALJ, not the court, to resolve conflicts in the evidence. Id.

III. ANALYSIS

Otero is a 37-year-old man who previously worked as a construction laborer and painter. On March 11, 2010, he filed a claim for disability benefits alleging disability on the basis of both physical and mental conditions, including right elbow tendinitis, bipolar disorder, depression, and anxiety. See Tr. at 410. On September 28, 2012, the ALJ denied his claim.

Otero now seeks remand of his claim for two reasons. First, he argues that the ALJ erred by omitting his alleged “severe limitations in social functioning, ” Doc. No. 9-1 at 8, from his RFC determination. Second, he argues that the ALJ made reversible legal error by making alternative findings of disability at both step four and step five of the sequential evaluation process. I address each argument in turn.

A. Residual Functional Capacity

Before proceeding to step four of the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found that Otero has the following RFC:

[Otero] has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b). He is unable to climb ladders, and is able to occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, crawl, and climb ramps and stairs. He must ...

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