United States District Court, D. New Hampshire
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Barbadoro, United States District Judge
Gean Fischer is a fifty-nine-year-old woman who previously
operated her own business. Earlier in this proceeding,
Fischer challenged the Social Security Administration's
denial of her claim for disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”). After I reversed the denial, the Acting
Commissioner sought review of my order by the First Circuit
Court of Appeals. The First Circuit vacated my order and
remanded for consideration of Fischer's remaining claims.
accordance with Local Rule 9.1, the parties have submitted a
joint statement of stipulated facts (Doc. No. 19).
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
protectively applied for DIB on February 28, 2012, alleging
disability as of October 31, 1995. An administrative law
judge (“ALJ”) subsequently held a hearing in May
2013 at which Fischer, represented by counsel, and a
vocational expert testified. Shortly thereafter, the ALJ
produced a written decision denying Fischer's
application. The Appeals Council declined review, making the
ALJ's decision the Acting Commissioner's final
decision, the ALJ laid out the five-step, sequential analysis
prescribed by 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a). Given the
ALJ's conclusion, however, he did not proceed past step
two. At step one, the ALJ determined that it was unnecessary
to ascertain whether Fischer's income constituted
substantial gainful employment. At step two, the ALJ found
that Fischer had a medically determinable impairment -
sciatica - but did not have a severe impairment or
combination of impairments as of March 31, 1998, her date
last insured (“DLI”). Accordingly, Fischer was
not disabled prior to that date.
order dated October 30, 2014, I reviewed the ALJ's
decision and remanded to correct a legal error. I ruled that
the ALJ failed to consult a medical expert when deciding that
Fischer was not disabled prior to her DLI, as is generally
required by SSR 83-20. See SSR 83-20, 1983 WL 31249,
at *3 (Jan. 1, 1983). And although an ALJ need not consult a
medical expert where the record unambiguously shows that the
claimant was not disabled as of her DLI, see, e.g., May
v. Soc. Sec. Admin. Com'r, 125 F.3d 841 (1st Cir.
1997) (unpublished) (per curiam), I concluded that the record
appeal, the First Circuit reached the contrary conclusion.
Focusing on an MRI of Fischer's cervical spine and x-rays
of her pelvis and left hip - all of which were taken around
the time of her DLI and all of which were normal - the First
Circuit held that the medical evidence unambiguously
demonstrated that Fischer had not become disabled prior to
her DLI. See Fischer v. Colvin, 831 F.3d 31, 35-36
(1st Cir. 2016). Accordingly, even if SSR 83-20 applied, the
ALJ did not need to consult a medical expert. Id. at
39. The First Circuit instructed me to consider Fischer's
remaining claims. See Id. at 39 & n.10.
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
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)).
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.