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Diaz v. U.S. Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

September 14, 2015

Maria Diaz
v.
U.S. Social Security Administration, Acting Commissioner. Opinion No. 2015 DNH 174

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

PAUL BARBADORO, District Judge.

Maria Diaz challenges the Social Security Administration's denial of her claim for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") and supplemental Social Security income ("SSI"). The Social Security Commissioner, in turn, seeks to have the ruling affirmed.

I. BACKGROUND

Pursuant to this court's Local Rule 9.1, the parties have submitted a statement of stipulated facts (Doc. No. 15). 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. ยง 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

Maria Diaz is a 44-year-old woman who suffers from a number of physical and mental conditions. She applied for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income in 2009. Her claims were denied after two hearings before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") in 2011 and again in 2012. In 2013, the Appeals Council vacated the denial and remanded Diaz's case to a different ALJ.

After holding a third hearing and receiving further evidence, the ALJ concluded at step two that Diaz has multiple severe medically determinable impairments, including anxiety disorder, depressive disorder, attention deficit disorder, a history of substance abuse, hypertension, heart disease, anemia, fibromyalgia, and obesity. See Tr. at 17. After determining that Diaz's impairments did not meet any of the step-three listed impairments, and that Diaz could not perform her past relevant work, the ALJ found at step five that Diaz has the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform work in the national economy. See Tr. at 19, 21-22, 30-31.

Diaz argues that remand is required for four reasons: (1) because the ALJ failed to properly consider her fibromyalgia symptoms in accordance with Social Security Ruling ("SSR") 12-2p; (2) because the ALJ made improper assignments of weight to various physicians who opined on her physical limitations; (3) similarly, because the ALJ made improper assignments of weight to various physicians who opined on her mental limitations; and (4) because the ALJ improperly discounted certain non-medical sources who provided opinions that support Diaz's claim. I address each argument in turn.

A. Compliance with SSR 12-2p

First, Diaz argues that the ALJ "did not follow the guidelines set forth in SSR 12-2p for the proper evaluation of fibromyalgia." Doc. No. 10-1 at 9. At step two, however, the ALJ recognized fibromyalgia as one of Diaz's severe medically determinable impairments. Tr. at 17. Beyond this, Diaz offers no specific explanation of how the ALJ actually deviated from SSR 12-2P, providing instead only vague and conclusory assertions that the ALJ somehow failed to "properly consider the symptoms of fibromyalgia as described in SSR 12-2p." Doc. No. 10-1 at 10. Diaz mounts no challenge to the ALJ's step-three finding that Diaz does not meet any listed impairment, and she makes no creditable argument that the ALJ's subsequent RFC determination does not comply with SSR 12-2p. Nor could she, since SSR 12-2p makes clear that even in the presence of fibromyalgia, an ALJ must conduct both listing and RFC analysis "as with any adult claim for disability benefits." SSR 12-2p, 2012 WL 3104869 (July 25, 2012), at *2 - *3. Although Diaz makes much of the fact that the ALJ's decision does not cite SSR 12-2p, that omission does not establish reversible error in the absence of any showing that the decision is materially inconsistent with the regulation. See Anderson v. Colvin, No. 14-CV-15-LM, 2014 WL 5605124, at *1, *11 (D.N.H. Nov. 4, 2014) ("[D]espite the ALJ's failure to directly cite SSR 12-2p, he complied with it.") Because Diaz has made no such showing, her argument based on SSR 12-2p is without merit. See id.

B. Physical Limitations

In her RFC finding, the ALJ determined that Diaz has the following ...


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