United States District Court, D. New Hampshire
McCafferty United States District Judge
to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), Matthew Chigas moves to reverse
the Acting Commissioner’s decision to deny his
applications for Social Security disability insurance
benefits, or DIB, under Title II of the Social Security Act,
42 U.S.C. § 423, and for supplemental security income,
or SSI, under Title XVI, 42 U.S.C. § 1382. The Acting
Commissioner, in turn, moves for an order affirming her
decision. For the reasons that follow, this matter is
remanded to the Acting Commissioner for further proceedings
consistent with this order.
Standard of Review
applicable standard of review in this case provides, in
The [district] court shall have power 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. The findings of the Commissioner of Social
Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial
evidence, shall be conclusive . . . .
42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (setting out the standard of review
for DIB decisions); see also 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3)
(establishing § 405(g) as the standard of review for SSI
decisions). However, the court "must uphold a denial of
social security . . . benefits unless ‘the [Acting
Commissioner] has committed a legal or factual error in
evaluating a particular claim.’" Manso-Pizarro
v. Sec’y of HHS, 76 F.3d 15, 16 (1st Cir. 1996)
(per curiam) (quoting Sullivan v. Hudson, 490 U.S.
877, 885 (1989)).
parties have submitted a Joint Statement of Material Facts.
That statement, document no. 11, is part of the court’s
record and will be summarized here, rather than repeated in
stopped working in January of 2004. His last job was as a
has an extensive record of seeking medical treatment,
typically in hospital emergency rooms, for back pain and
headaches. He was last insured for DIB on March 31, 2009. In
September of 2011, he applied for both DIB and SSI, claiming
August 14, 2008, as the onset date of his disability.
Disability Determination Explanation ("DDE") form
associated with Chigas’s claim for DIB notes that
"[t]here is no indication that there is [any] medical or
other opinion evidence." Administrative Transcript
(hereinafter "Tr.") 111. That form also observes
that "[n]o RFC . . . assessments are associated with
this claim." Id. The DDE form concludes with
the following Personalized Decision Notice ("PDN"):
In order to be entitled for benefits, your condition must be
found to be severe prior to 03/31/2009, when you were last
insured for disability benefits. The evidence in file is not
sufficient to fully evaluate your claim and the evidence
needed cannot be obtained. We have determined your condition
was not disabling on any date through 03/31/2009, when you
were last insured for disability benefits. In deciding this,
we considered the medical records, your statements, and how
your condition affected your ability to work.
the DDE form associated with Chigas’s claim for DIB,
the DDE form associated with his SSI claim notes that
"[t]here is no indication that there is medical or other
opinion evidence, " Tr. 111, and that "[n]o RFC . .
. assessments are associated with this claim, "
the Social Security Administration denied Chigas’s
applications for DIB and SSI, he received a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). The ALJ took
testimony from a medical expert, Dr. Bruce Witkind. Dr.
Witkind testified that neither Chigas’s back condition
nor his headaches qualified as disabling impairments under
the applicable regulations. With regard to any limitations
resulting from Chigas’s impairments, Dr. Witkind had
this to say:
I’m not able to identify any limitations. If one wants
to be cautious, there [are] some marginal changes on the MRI.
If you want to be cautious, you might put him at a medium
level of work maximum, which would be 50-pound maximum
lifting, pushing, pulling, carrying on an occasional basis,
with a maximum of 25 pounds lifting, pushing, pulling and
carrying on a frequent basis. There will not be any other
restrictions. For example, with regards to ...