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Bodette v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

August 9, 2016

Cory Bodette
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration Opinion No. 2016 DNH 131


          Joseph Laplante United States District Judge

         Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), Cory Bodette moves for an order reversing the Acting Commissioner’s decision to deny his application 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.

         I. Standard of Review

         The applicable standard of review in this case provides, in pertinent part:

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)).

         As for the statutory requirement that the Acting Commissioner’s findings of fact be supported by substantial evidence, “[t]he substantial evidence test applies not only to findings of basic evidentiary facts, but also to inferences and conclusions drawn from such facts.” Alexandrou v. Sullivan, 764 F.Supp. 916, 917-18 (S.D.N.Y. 1991) (citing Levine v. Gardner, 360 F.2d 727, 730 (2d Cir. 1966)). In turn, “[s]ubstantial evidence is ‘more than [a] mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.’” Currier v. Sec’y of HEW, 612 F.2d 594, 597 (1st Cir. 1980) (quoting Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). But, “[i]t is the responsibility of the [Acting Commissioner] to determine issues of credibility and to draw inferences from the record evidence. Indeed, the resolution of conflicts in the evidence is for the [Acting Commissioner], not the courts.” Irlanda Ortiz v. Sec’y of HHS, 955 F.2d 765, 769 (1st Cir. 1991) (per curiam) (citations omitted). Moreover, the court “must uphold the [Acting Commissioner’s] conclusion, even if the record arguably could justify a different conclusion, so long as it is supported by substantial evidence.” Tsarelka v. Sec’y of HHS, 842 F.2d 529, 535 (1st Cir. 1988) (per curiam). Finally, when determining whether a decision of the Acting Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence, the court must “review[] the evidence in the record as a whole.” Irlanda Ortiz, 955 F.2d at 769 (quoting Rodriguez v. Sec’y of HHS, 647 F.2d 218, 222 (1st Cir. 1981)).

         II. Background

         The parties have submitted a Joint Statement of Material Facts. That statement[1] is part of the court’s record and will be summarized here, rather than repeated in full. Moreover, the following summary focusses on those facts relevant to the disposition of the motions before the court.

         Bodette last worked as a lot associate at Home Depot. Before that, he worked as a cashier at Walmart. He left his job at Home Depot on June 13, 2012, which is the date on which he claims to have become disabled. Two days before he stopped working, Bodette went to the doctor, complaining of syncope.[2] He continues to have syncopal episodes, but doctors have been unable to determine the root cause. About two weeks after he stopped working, Bodette applied for SSI and DIB benefits, claiming that he was disabled by syncope, migraine headaches, and depression.

         On September 12, 2012, Bodette was seen by a psychologist, Dr. Cheryl Bildner, who performed a consultative examination.[3]In the Mental Health Evaluation Report that resulted from her examination, Dr. Bildner gave Bodette three relevant diagnoses: (1) severe recurrent major depressive disorder with psychotic features; (2) chronic posttraumatic stress disorder; and (3) attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, by history. Under the heading “Content of Thought, ” Dr. Bildner noted:

Claimant reported suicidal thoughts. He reported having a firearm at home and thoughts of killing himself. He denied any intent and reported that he “doesn’t want anyone to have to clean up his mess.” He contracted for safety and contracted to bring himself to the emergency room if he experienced suicidal thoughts. He denied any plans to harm others. He reported hearing voices and stated that the voices are critical in nature. He also reported that [the voices tell] him to hurt himself but he “knows they are not real”. He reported experiencing flashbacks and nightmares of past abuse. He denied experiencing obsessions or compulsions. He reported that he experiences hypervigilant tendencies and experiences high anxiety including panic attacks and racing thoughts. He checks to make sure doors are locked and windows are shut. He was focused on his psychological symptoms and his physical health.

Tr. 551-52.

         With respect to Bodette’s level of functioning at the time she examined him, Dr. Bildner offered the following opinions:

Claimant is predominantly able to complete activities of daily living.
. . . .
Claimant is able to interact appropriately and communicate effectively with others. Claimant maintained consistent employment for over four years.
. . . .
Claimant is able to understand and recall instructions. No gross deficits were observed in cognitive functioning. He is able to recall employment procedures as evidenced by his ability to sustain long term employment.
. . . .
Claimant is able to maintain attention and concentration when appropriately motivated. Currently, he is enrolled in two online computer courses which he is engaged in. On the job, he has a history of maintaining consistent attention and concentration. Concentration and task completion will be interrupted during a syncope episode.
. . . .
Claimant is currently unable to manage stress associated with a place of employment. He is preoccupied with physical health and feels “unsafe” to go to work. He has no motivation to report to work. He reported that he is currently employed by Home Depot. He is not motivated to maintain a schedule. He is able to interact ...

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