United States District Court, D. New Hampshire
Bennett B. Mortell, Esq.
Michael T. McCormack, Esq.
J. McAuliffe United States District Judge
to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), claimant, Jay
Gagnon, moves to reverse 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.
reasons discussed below, claimant’s motion is granted
to the extent he seeks a remand for further proceedings, and
the Acting Commissioner’s motion is denied.
16, 2012, Gagnon filed an application for Disability
Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental
Security Income (“SSI”), alleging that he had
been unable to work since August 1, 2011, due to a
“mental health diagnosis, ”
“schizoaffective disorder bipolar type, ” and
depression. Administrative Record (“Admin. Rec.”)
at 83-84 and 172. That application was denied (admin. rec. at
84-85), and claimant requested a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) (admin. rec. at
November 18, 2013, Gagnon, his counsel, and a vocational
expert appeared before an ALJ, who considered
claimant’s application de novo. Admin. Rec. at
34-62. At the hearing, Gagnon amended his alleged onset date
to March 15, 2012. Admin. Rec. at 36, 147. On December 18,
2013, the ALJ issued his written decision, concluding that
Gagnon had medically determinable impairments, but that none
of them were severe, as that term is defined in the Act.
Id. at 22. Therefore, the ALJ concluded, Gagnon was
not disabled. Id. at 28.
then sought review of the ALJ’s decision by the Appeals
Council. Admin. Rec. at 8 - 14. By notice dated April 14,
2015, the Appeals Council denied Gagnon’s request for
review. Id. at 1 - 6. Accordingly, the ALJ’s
denial of Gagnon’s application for benefits became the
final decision of the Acting Commissioner, subject to
judicial review. Id. at 1.
Gagnon filed a timely action in this court, asserting that
the ALJ’s decision is not supported by substantial
evidence. Gagnon 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. 10). Those motions are
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. 12), need
not be recounted in this opinion. Those facts relevant to the
disposition of this matter are discussed as appropriate.
“Substantial Evidence” and Deferential
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 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).
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 determinations. See, e.g.,
Tsarelka v. Secretary of Health & Human
Services, 842 F.2d 529, 535 (1st Cir. 1988);
Rodriguez v. Secretary of Health & Human
Services, 647 F.2d 218, 222 (1st Cir. 1981).
The Parties’ Respective Burdens.
individual seeking SSI and/or DIB benefits is disabled under
the Act if he or she is unable “to engage in any
substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically
determinable physical or mental impairment which can be
expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be
expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12
months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). See
also 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3). The Act places a
heavy initial burden on the claimant to establish the
existence of a disabling impairment. See Bowen v.
Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146-47 (1987); Santiago v.
Secretary of Health & Human Services, 944 F.2d 1, 5
(1st Cir. 1991). To satisfy that burden, the claimant must
prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that his
impairment prevents him from performing his former type of
work. See Gray v. Heckler, 760 F.2d 369, 371 (1st
Cir. 1985); Paone v. Schweiker, 530 F.Supp. 808,
810-11 (D. Mass. 1982). If the claimant demonstrates an
inability to perform his previous work, the burden shifts to
the Commissioner to show ...