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Moore v. US Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

May 25, 2017

Mary Moore
v.
US Social Security Administration, Acting Commissioner, Nancy A. Berryhill Opinion No. 2017 DNH 099

          Laurie Smith Young, Esq. Robert J. Rabuck, Esq. Terry L. Ollila, Esq.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          Paul Barbadoro United States District Judge

         Mary Moore challenges the Social Security Administration's decision to deny her claim for supplemental security income (SSI) benefits. She argues, among other things, that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) improperly determined that she had the lifting capacity required for light work. The Acting Commissioner moves for an order affirming the ALJ's decision.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In accordance with Local Rule 9.1, the parties have submitted a joint statement of stipulated facts (Doc. No. 12). Because that joint statement is part of the court's record, I do not recount it here. I discuss facts relevant to the disposition of this matter as necessary below.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         I am authorized to review the pleadings submitted by the parties and the administrative record and enter a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the “final decision” of the Commissioner. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). That review is limited, however, “to determining whether the ALJ used the proper legal standards and found facts [based] upon the proper quantum of evidence.” Ward v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 211 F.3d 652, 655 (1st Cir. 2000). I defer to the ALJ's findings of fact, so long as those findings are supported by substantial evidence. Id. Substantial evidence exists “if a reasonable mind, reviewing the evidence in the record as a whole, could accept it as adequate to support his conclusion.” Irlanda Ortiz v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 955 F.2d 765, 769 (1st Cir. 1991) (per curiam) (quoting Rodriguez v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 647 F.2d 218, 222 (1st Cir. 1981)).

         If the substantial evidence standard is met, the ALJ's factual findings are conclusive, even where the record “arguably could support a different conclusion.” Id. at 770. Findings are not conclusive, however, if the ALJ derived his findings by “ignoring evidence, misapplying the law, or judging matters entrusted to experts.” Nguyen v. Chater, 172 F.3d 31, 35 (1st Cir. 1999) (per curiam). The ALJ is responsible for determining issues of credibility and for drawing inferences from evidence in the record. Irlanda Ortiz, 955 F.2d at 769. It is the role of the ALJ, not the court, to resolve conflicts in the evidence. Id. But the ALJ's decision must enable the reviewing court to determine whether the ALJ engaged with conflicts, rather than failing to consider them. See Dube v. Astrue, 781 F.Supp.2d 27, 35 (D.N.H. 2011); Lord v. Apfel, 114 F.Supp.2d 3, 13-14 (D.N.H. 2000); see also Garfield v. Schweiker, 732 F.2d 605, 610 (7th Cir. 1984).

         III. ANALYSIS

         Moore is a fifty-five-year-old woman with a scattered work history who alleges disability as of November 15, 2007. See Tr. at 322; Doc. No. 12 at 1 n.1. She alleges disabling impairments of fibromyalgia, lupus, lobectomy, degenerative joint disease, vertigo, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, vocal cord dysfunction, panic disorder, anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. She alleges that these impairments impose both exertional and non-exertional limitations on her ability to work. The ALJ found that Moore was not disabled because she could perform the light work job of price marker.

         On appeal, Moore argues that the ALJ improperly determined that she had the lifting capacity required for light work even though no medical opinion supported that determination. In response, the Acting Commissioner argues that Moore waived her challenge by not raising it before the ALJ and, in the alternative, the ALJ reasonably interpreted the medical opinion evidence to arrive at his lifting-capacity determination.

         I begin by explaining why Moore has not waived her challenge. Turning to the merits, I conclude that the ALJ did not support his determination with substantial evidence because he misstated a critical finding and failed to adequately address conflicts in the evidence.

         A. Waiver

         The Acting Commissioner argues that Moore waived her challenge to the lifting determination because she “did not raise it before the ALJ.” See Doc. No. 11-1 at 5. Because Moore's lifting restriction was presented to the ALJ, a subsequent remand hearing was limited to a ...


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