United States District Court, D. New Hampshire
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Barbadoro United States District Judge.
Floyd is a forty-three-year-old woman who has previously
worked at a restaurant and a warehouse. Floyd challenges the
Social Security Administration's denial of her claim for
supplemental security income (“SSI”).
accordance with Local Rule 9.1, the parties have submitted a
joint statement of stipulated facts (Doc. No. 17). Because
that joint statement is part of the court's record, I do
not recount it here. Instead, I discuss facts relevant to the
disposition of this matter as necessary below.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), I have the authority to review
the administrative record and the pleadings submitted by the
parties, and to enter judgment affirming, modifying, or
reversing the final decision of the Commissioner. That review
is limited, however, “to determining whether the
[Administrative Law Judge] 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
Administrative Law Judge's (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)).
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.
submitted an application for SSI in April 2012, alleging an
onset date of July 2008. The ALJ subsequently held three
hearings. At the first hearing, in October 2013, Floyd
appeared alone, and the ALJ postponed the hearing to give
Floyd an opportunity to obtain counsel. In March 2014, Floyd
failed to appear at the second hearing, though Floyd's
counsel and a vocational expert did attend. The expert
testified at the hearing, answering questions from both the
ALJ and Floyd's counsel. Floyd and her roommate Yuwana
Mitchell eventually testified at a hearing held in July 2014.
In a decision dated August 12, 2014, the ALJ determined that
Floyd was not disabled.
reaching his decision, the ALJ employed the five-step
sequential analysis outlined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a).
At step one, the ALJ concluded that Floyd had not engaged in
substantial gainful activity since applying for SSI in April
2012. In his step two analysis, the ALJ considered
Floyd's impairments and found that several were severe:
left foot osteoarthritis, affective disorder, and anxiety
disorder. The ALJ next decided at step three that Floyd's
impairments, whether considered individually or in
combination, did not meet or medically equal any listed
impairment. After formulating Floyd's residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) and recognizing at step four
that Floyd had no past relevant work, the ALJ advanced to
step five. There, the ALJ found that Floyd could perform a
significant number of jobs in the national economy. This
finding yielded the conclusion that Floyd was not disabled.
August 2015, the Appeals Council denied Floyd's request
for review of the ALJ's decision. The ALJ's decision
now constitutes the final decision of the Acting Commissioner
and is ripe for review.
develops two principal arguments for reversing the ALJ's
decision: (1) the ALJ erred in calculating her RFC; and (2)
the ALJ erred in finding that her spinal condition did not
meet or medically equal a listed impairment.
claimant's RFC is “the most [the claimant] can
still do despite [her] limitations.” 20 C.F.R. §
404.1545(a)(1). The ALJ found that Floyd could perform light
work,  “except that she is limited to
simple, repetitive unskilled tasks.” Tr. at 34. On
appeal, I determine whether the assigned RFC is free of legal
error and supported by substantial evidence. See Nguyen, 172
F.3d at 35.
Evaluation of Opinion Evidence
challenges the weight assigned to the opinion of state agency
reviewing psychologist Laura Landerman, Ph.D. See Doc. No.
12-1 at 9. Dr. Landerman prepared an assessment of
Floyd's mental RFC in August 2012. Tr. at 88-89. She
opined that Floyd had a moderate limitation on her
“ability to perform activities within a schedule,
maintain regular attendance, and be punctual within customary
tolerances.” Tr. at 89. Despite the moderate
limitation, Dr. Landerman ultimately concluded that Floyd was
still “able to maintain a schedule and attendance
with[in] customary tolerances.” Tr. at 89. In all other
functional areas Floyd either had no limitation or
insignificant limitation. See Tr. at 88-89.
preparing her assessment, Dr. Landerman relied on the August
2012 opinion of examining psychologist Juliana Read, Ph.D.
See Tr. at 89. Dr. Read reviewed Floyd's medical records
and met with Floyd for fifty-five minutes, discussing the
history of Floyd's mental illness and Floyd's daily
activities. See Tr. at 402-05. Dr. Read also performed a
mental status examination, which yielded largely unremarkable
results: Floyd's behavior and content of thought were
within normal limits, her speech was regular, her affect was
congruent with her stable mood, and her sensory functions
were intact. See Tr. at 403. Although Dr. Read diagnosed
Floyd, in pertinent part, with obsessive compulsive disorder
and bipolar disorder, she noted only one area of ...