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Carr v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

December 8, 2015

Cassandra Lee Carr
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner, U.S. Social Security Administration. Opinion No. 2015 DNH 223


PAUL BARBADORO, District Judge.

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


In accordance with Local Rule 9.1, the parties have submitted a joint statement of stipulated facts (Doc. No. 10). See LR 9.1. Because that joint statement is part of the court's record, I need not recount it here. I discuss facts relevant to the disposition of this matter as necessary below.


Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), I have the authority to review the pleadings submitted by the parties and the administrative record, and to enter a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the "final decision" of the Commissioner. That review is limited, however, "to determining whether the [Administrative Law Judge] 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). I defer to the Administrative Law Judge's (ALJ's) findings of fact, so long as those findings are supported by substantial evidence. Id . Substantial evidence 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, the ALJ's factual findings are conclusive, even where the record "arguably could support a different conclusion." Id. at 770. Findings are not conclusive, however, if the ALJ derived his findings 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.


Carr filed an application for DIB and SSI in August 2012, alleging disability as of January 31, 2011. Tr. at 165-82. After her claims were initially denied, a hearing was held before an ALJ in May 2013.[1] Tr. at 36-82 (hearing transcript). The ALJ issued a written decision in June 2013 concluding that Carr was not disabled. Tr. at 16-35. In his decision, the ALJ concluded at step one that Carr had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 31, 2011, the alleged onset date. Tr. at 21. At step two, the ALJ determined that Carr had severe impairments of depression, panic disorder, and reading disorder. Tr. at 21-22. At step three, the ALJ decided that Carr's impairments did not meet or equal any of the listed impairments, specifically considering and rejecting listing 12.05. Tr. at 22-24. The ALJ finally found at step five that Carr had the residual functional capacity to perform work in the national economy. Tr. at 24-29. The ALJ therefore concluded that Carr was not disabled. Tr. at 30.

In August 2014, the Appeals Council notified Carr that it had denied her request to review the ALJ's decision. Tr. at 1-6. As such, the ALJ's decision constitutes the Commissioner's final decision, and this matter is now ripe for judicial review.

Carr argues that a remand is required for two reasons: (1) the ALJ erred in concluding that Carr did not meet or equal listing 12.05(C), and (2) the ALJ's assessment of Carr's residual functional capacity is not supported by substantial evidence. Doc. No. 8-1. I address each argument in turn.

A. Listing 12.05(C)

Carr first challenges the ALJ's conclusion that Carr did not meet or equal listing 12.05(C). See id. at 4-13. For the reasons set out below, I reject Carr's argument.

20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iii) provides that, at step three of the five-part evaluation process, the ALJ must consider the severity of a claimant's impairments to determine whether those impairments meet or equal one of the listings set out in appendix 1 of 20 C.F.R. § 404. Each listing then specifies the "objective medical and other findings needed to satisfy the criteria of that listing." 20 C.F.R. § 404.1525(c)(3). In order to meet a listing's requirements, the ...

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