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Nelson v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

March 30, 2016

Henry T. Nelson, Claimant
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant Opinion No. 2016 DNH 067


Steven J. McAuliffe United States District Judge

Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), claimant, Henry T. Nelson, moves to reverse or vacate the Acting Commissioner’s decision denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act (the “Act”), 42 U.S.C. § 423, and Supplemental Security Income Benefits under Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383(c). 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.

Factual Background

I. Procedural History.

In 2012, Nelson filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits, alleging that he had been unable to work since October 31, 2010, due to degenerative disc disease, anxiety and confusion (depression). Administrative Record (“Admin. Rec.”) at 137-154, 172-187. That application was denied (Admin. Rec. at 59-86), and claimant requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) (Admin. Rec. at 87-88).

On August 13, 2012, Nelson, his attorney, and a vocational expert appeared before an ALJ, who considered claimant’s application de novo. Admin. Rec. at 29-51. Two weeks later, the ALJ issued her written decision, concluding that Nelson was not disabled, as that term is defined in the Act, at any time prior to the date of her decision. Id. at 16-24.

Nelson then sought review of the ALJ’s decision by the Appeals Council. Admin. Rec. at 12. By notice dated November 28, 2014, the Appeals Council denied Nelson’s request for review. Admin. Rec. at 1-6. Accordingly, the ALJ’s denial of Nelson’s application for benefits became the final decision of the Acting Commissioner, subject to judicial review. Id. at 1.

Subsequently, Nelson filed a timely action in this court, asserting that the ALJ’s decision is not supported by substantial evidence. Nelson then filed a “Motion for Order Reversing Decision of the Commissioner” (document no. 8). In response, the Acting Commissioner filed a “Motion for Order Affirming the Decision of the Commissioner” (document no. 20). Those motions are pending.

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. 11), 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. Secretary of Health & Human Services, 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 she is disabled under the Act. Rather, the court’s inquiry 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). 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. Such is the nature of judicial review of disability benefit ...

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