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Wilt v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

October 14, 2016

Kathy Ann Wilt
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration Opinion No. 2016 DNH 182


          Landya McCafferty United States District Judge.

         Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), Kathy Wilt moves to reverse the Acting Commissioner's decision to deny her 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.

         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, document no. 12, is part of the court's record and will be summarized here, rather than repeated in full.

         Wilt has been diagnosed with various physical and mental impairments. She applied for both DIB and SSI in October of 2012.

         In April of 2013, Wilt's physical residual functional capacity (“RFC”)[1] was assessed by Dr. Burton Nault, a non-examining physician who reviewed her medical records. Based upon his review, Dr. Nault identified no exertional or non-exertional limitations on Wilt's ability to perform work-related activities.

         In February of 2013, the SSA referred Wilt to Dr. Evelyn Harriott, a psychologist, for a consultative examination. Based upon her examination, Dr. Harriott prepared a Mental Health Evaluation Report on Wilt. In her report, Dr. Harriott gave Wilt diagnoses of panic disorder without agoraphobia and major depressive disorder, moderate. Dr. Harriott also offered the following opinions on Wilt's then current level of functioning:

[Ms. Wilt] was cooperative and appears able to interact appropriately with others. . . .
. . . Ms. Wilt is able to understand and remember basic and familiar locations, information and procedures. . . .
. . . Ms. Wilt is able to attend, concentrate and persist at a below average pace to complete rote and brief tasks. . . .
. . . Ms. Wilt is able to make simple decisions. She also appears able to interact appropriately, at least for brief periods, as she did in the office today. However, she is not motivated to interact with people and doesn't care about grooming herself when going out in pubic to run errands. It is unlikely that she would keep attendance and a schedule, as she is not motivated to do so and complains of constant stomach upset.

Administrative Transcript (hereinafter “Tr.”) 341-42.

         In February of 2013, Wilt's mental RFC was assessed by Dr. John Warren, a non-examining psychologist who reviewed her medical records. Dr. Warren indicated that Wilt had limitations in all four areas he reported on: (1) understanding and memory; (2) sustained concentration and persistence; (3) social interaction; and (4) adaptation. He summarized his opinions on Wilt's mental RFC this way:

Claimant [is] able to understand/remember simple instructions. Unable to do so for moderately to highly complex/detailed instructions.
Claimant is able to sustain the mental demands associated with carrying out simple tasks over the course of [a] routine workday/workweek within acceptable attention, persistence, [and] pace tolerances. Unable to do so for moderately to highly complex/detailed tasks requiring sustained concentration.
Claimant is able to sustain the basic demands associated with relating adequately with supervisors/co-workers. Unable to interact appropriately with the general public.[2]
Claimant is able to adapt to routine workplace change, remain aware of environmental hazards, form basic plans/goals, ...

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