United States District Court, D. New Hampshire
Joseph DiClerico, Jr., United States District Judge
Kelly Smith seeks judicial review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), of the decision of the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, denying her application for social security disability insurance benefits. In support, Smith argues that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) made legal and factual errors, which require the decision to be reversed and remanded. The Acting Commissioner moves to affirm.
Standard of Review
In reviewing the final decision of the Acting Commissioner in a social security case, the court “is limited to determining whether the ALJ deployed the proper legal standards and found facts upon the proper quantum of evidence.” Nguyen v. Chater, 172 F.3d 31, 35 (1st Cir. 1999); accord Seavey v. Barnhart, 276 F.3d 1, 9 (1st Cir. 2001). The court defers to the ALJ’s factual findings as long as they are supported by substantial evidence. § 405(g). “Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Astralis Condo. Ass’n v. Sec’y Dep’t of Housing & Urban Dev., 620 F.3d 62, 66 (1st Cir. 2010).
Smith applied for social security disability insurance benefits in February of 2012, alleging disability since February 1, 2011, due to back and neck pain, cognitive disorder, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and personality disorder. Smith has a high school education and past work experience as a housekeeper and licensed nursing assistant. She was forty years old when she applied for benefits. Her last insured date was June 30, 2012.
The medical records, as summarized in the parties’ joint statement of material facts, show that Smith first complained of back pain in December of 2011. She continued to be examined for back pain issues through 2012. Dr. Sohaib Siddiqui became Smith’s primary care physician in July of 2012.
Cheryl Bildner, Ph.D., did a consultative psychological evaluation of Smith on July 30, 2012. Dr. Bildner noted inconsistencies between Smith’s reports and her medical history, which included drug-seeking behavior. Based on her examination, Dr. Bildner found that Smith could interact appropriately and communicate effectively; she had no deficits in social interaction; she could remember work locations and understand work procedures; she had no gross deficits in memory; she lacked motivation to maintain a schedule and to sustain employment; she was unable to maintain attention and complete tasks due to ineffective pain management and lack of motivation; and she was unable to tolerate common workplace stress. Dr. Bildner diagnosed obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, dysthymic disorder, chronic back pain, and status post removal of a colloid cyst. She noted that substance abuse would have to be ruled out and recommended counseling and substance abuse evaluation.
In July of 2012, a state agency physician, Dr. Hugh Fairley, reviewed Smith’s records to complete a physical residual functional capacity assessment for the period from February 1, 2011, to June 30, 2012. Dr. Fairly concluded that Smith had the physical residual functional capacity to do work corresponding to the light exertional level with some postural limitations.
In August of 2012, a state agency psychologist, Dr. Edward Martin, reviewed Smith’s records to assess her mental impairments. Dr. Martin considered the period between April 1, 2012, and June 30, 2012, and found that Smith had anxiety and affective disorders that were not severe. He concluded that the disorders did not meet the criteria of listed impairments and that Smith was able to care for herself; interact effectively with others; maintain concentration, persistence, and pace; and tolerate normal workplace stress.
In September of 2012, Linda Anderson of Northern Human Services conducted a diagnostic interview with Smith. Anderson found that Smith had a withdrawn and fearful demeanor and a depressed mood but had appropriate eye contact, clear speech, normal perception, logical thought process, cooperative behavior, and average intelligence. Smith attended therapy with Anderson after the initial interview.
Smith began treatment with Dr. Erinn Felner, a psychiatrist, in December of 2012. Dr. Felner assessed post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar affective disorder, and chronic pain. She prescribed Seroquel and noted at subsequent appointments that Smith’s symptoms and mood had improved.
Dr. Siddiqui completed a medical Source Statement of Ability to Do Work-Related Activities (Physical) in July of 2013. He found that Smith was able to lift and carry less than ten pounds, could not walk or stand for two hours in an eight-hour day, could sit for fewer than six hours, was limited in her ability to reach, and had limitations in her ability to do postural activities. Dr. Siddiqui also indicated that Smith’s ability to maintain attention and concentration would be significantly compromised by her pain medication. He did not identify any clinical or medical findings to support the limitations he assessed on the form.
Dr. Hess and Dr. Felner each completed a Medical Source Statement of Ability to Do Work-Related Activities (Mental) in July of 2013. They both found that Smith was markedly limited or effectively precluded from understanding, remembering, and carrying out detailed instructions; from maintaining attention and concentration to do work tasks; from maintaining ...