United States District Court, D. New Hampshire
Doris T. Gottier, Claimant
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant No. 2016 DNH 161
J. McAuliffe United States District Judge
to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), claimant, Doris T.
Gottier, moves to reverse the Acting Commissioner's
decision denying her application for Disability Insurance
Benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act (the
“Act”), 42 U.S.C. § 423. The Acting
Commissioner objects and moves for an order affirming her
reasons discussed below, claimant's motion is granted as
set forth herein, and the Acting Commissioner's motion is
2012, Gottier filed an application for Disability Insurance
Benefits, alleging that she had been unable to work since
August 20, 2012, due to neck strain, anxiety, a history of
cervical spine fusion, asthma, high blood pressure,
degeneration of the discs of her cervical spine, acid reflux,
nerve damage, high cholesterol, muscle spasms, arthritis, a
fractured disc in her back, leg pain and depression.
Administrative Record (“Admin. Rec.”) at 73, 63,
151. That application was denied (Admin. Rec. at 73), and
claimant requested a hearing before an Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”) (Admin. Rec. at 78-79).
January 27, 2014, Gottier, her attorney, and a vocational
expert appeared before an ALJ, who considered claimant's
application de novo. Admin. Rec. at 40-62. On March 24, 2014,
the ALJ issued his written decision, concluding that Gottier
was not disabled, as that term is defined in the Act, at any
time prior to the date of his decision. Id. at
then sought review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals
Council. Admin. Rec. at 18-19. By notice dated July 15, 2015,
the Appeals Council denied Gottier's request for review.
Admin. Rec. at 1-6. Accordingly, the ALJ's denial of
Gottier's application for benefits became the final
decision of the Acting Commissioner, subject to judicial
review. Id. at 1.
Gottier filed a timely action in this court, asserting that
the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial
evidence. Gottier 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. 11). 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. 11), 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
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).
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 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). 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 her impairment prevents
her from performing her 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 her
previous work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show
that there are other jobs in the national economy that she
can perform, in light of her age, education, and prior work
experience. See Vazquez v. Secretary of Health &
Human Services, 683 F.2d 1, 2 (1st Cir. 1982). See
also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1512(f) and 416.912(f).
assessing a disability claim, the Commissioner considers both
objective and subjective factors, including: (1) objective
medical facts; (2) the claimant's subjective claims of
pain and disability, as supported by the testimony of the
claimant or other witnesses; and (3) the claimant's
educational background, age, and work experience. See,
e.g., Avery v. Secretary of Health & Human
Services, 797 F.2d 19, 23 (1st Cir. 1986);
Goodermote v. ...