United States District Court, D. New Hampshire
Charles P. Robinson, Claimant
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant Opinion No. 2017 DNH 092
J. McAuliffe United States District Judge
to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), claimant, Charles
P. Robinson, moves to reverse or vacate the Acting
Commissioner's decision denying his application for
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
reasons discussed below, claimant's motion is granted,
and the Acting Commissioner's motion is denied.
2013, Robinson filed an application for Supplemental Security
Income Benefits, alleging that he had been unable to work
since August 24, 2010, due to breathing problems, and neck
and back pain. Administrative Record (“Admin.
Rec.”) at 429, 433. That application was denied (Admin.
Rec. at 96), and Robinson requested a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) (Admin. Rec. at
August 25, 2015, Robinson, his attorney, and a vocational
expert appeared before an ALJ, who considered claimant's
application de novo. Admin. Rec. at 59-82. At the hearing,
claimant amended his alleged onset date to July 15, 2013.
Admin. Rec. at 62. On September 3, 2015, the ALJ issued his
written decision. The ALJ concluded that Robinson was
disabled, as that term is defined in the Act, beginning on
Robinson's 55th birthday (October 29, 2014), and
continuing through the date of the decision. Admin. Rec. at
28. The ALJ further concluded that Robinson was not disabled,
as that term is defined in the Act, prior to October 29,
2014. Id. at 23-27.
sought review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals
Council. Admin. Rec. at 6-12. By notice dated August 23,
2016, the Appeals Council denied Robinson's request for
review. Id. at 1-5. Accordingly, the ALJ's
denial of Robinson's application for benefits became the
final decision of the Acting Commissioner, subject to
judicial review. Id.
Robinson filed a timely action in this court, asserting that
the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial
evidence. Robinson then filed a “Motion for Order
Reversing Decision of the Commissioner” (document no.
6). In response, the Acting Commissioner filed a
“Motion for Order Affirming the Decision of the
Commissioner” (document no. 9). 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. 8), 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 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
that there are other jobs in the national economy that he can
perform, in light of his 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. Secretary of Health & Human
Services, 690 F.2d 5, 6 (1st Cir. 1982). Ultimately, a
claimant is disabled only if his:
physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such
severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work
but cannot, considering his age, education, and work
experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful
work which exists in the national economy, regardless of
whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he
lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or
whether he would be hired if he applied for work.
42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A). See also 42 U.S.C.
those principles in mind, the court reviews claimant's
motion to reverse and the Acting ...