United States District Court, D. New Hampshire
L. Ollila, Esq. Laurie Smith Young, Esq.
DiClerico, Jr. United States District Judge.
Ledonne seeks judicial review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
405(g), of the decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social
Security, denying her application for disability insurance
benefits under Title II and supplemental security income
benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. Ledonne
moves to reverse, contending that the Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”) erred by assessing her residual
functional capacity based in part on her lay interpretation
of the medical record. The Acting Commissioner moves to
reviewing the final decision of the Acting Commissioner in a
social security case, the court “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); accord Seavey v. Barnhart, 276 F.3d
1, 9 (1st Cir. 2001). The court defers to the ALJ's
factual findings as long as they are supported by substantial
evidence. § 405(g); see also Fischer v. Colvin,
831 F.3d 31, 34 (1st Cir. 2016). “Substantial evidence
is more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.” Castillo Condo. Ass'n v.
U.S. Dep't of Housing & Urban Dev., 821 F.3d 92,
97 (1st Cir. 2016) (internal quotation marks omitted).
filed an application for social security benefits in
September of 2013. She alleged that she was disabled due to
bipolar or manic mental health issues, attention deficit
disorder, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, chronic pain, and
herniated discs. Ledonne was in her early fifties when she
applied for benefits. She had a high school education and had
previously worked as a waitress and a manager.
medical evidence begins in 2007 with a report of a lumbar
MRI. The MRI showed a protrusion with an annular tear at
¶ 5-S1, which was similar to examination results in
2003. Ledonne continued treatment for back pain, changing to
treatment in New Hampshire from treatment in Massachusetts.
March of 2013, Ledonne attempted suicide and was admitted for
a psychiatric examination. Subsequent treatment notes showed
continued mental health issues. In August of 2013, Ledonne
again attempted suicide. She was admitted to the hospital
with diagnoses of mood disorder, ADHD, opiate dependence, and
a note to rule out bipolar disorder. During treatment after
discharge from the hospital, Ledonne continued to report
anxiety and depression.
January of 2014, the state agency psychologist noted that
Ledonne had not provided medical evidence to support her
application. As a result, he was unable to do a functional
was again in the hospital in March of 2014 because of
depression and anxiety and thoughts of suicide. She was
evaluated at Portsmouth Regional Hospital for management and
treatment of depression with psychosis. Ledonne also had
worsening of her chronic back pain at that time. Her
examination on March 8, 2014, showed improvement, and she was
discharged on March 11, 2014. Her diagnoses were mood
disorder, ADHD, opiate dependence in sustained remission,
herniated discs, sciatica, and edema in her legs.
Examinations during the next year showed improvement.
Sandra Vallery did a comprehensive psychological profile of
Ledonne in May of 2015. Based on Ledonne's descriptions,
the examination, and some medical records, Dr. Vallery
concluded that Ledonne had a mood disorder, generalized
anxiety disorder, ADHD, depressive disorder, alcohol abuse in
partial remission, and substance abuse in remission. With
respect to her functioning, Dr. Vallery found that Ledonne
would be able to interact and communicate appropriately,
remember all instructions, concentrate and complete tasks,
and make simple decisions. Dr. Vallery also found, however,
that Ledonne would have inconsistent attendance at work
because of anxiety.
Peter Loeser did a consultative examination of Ledonne in May
of 2015 to assess her physical functioning. Dr. Loeser
reviewed only one medical record, which was from 2002. He
found that Ledonne had low back pain with radiculopathy
“of uncertain etiology with minimal available
supportive documentation and acute neck pain.” He
indicated no significant findings on his examination. He also
noted that Ledonne was able to move around the examination
room without difficulty or impairment.
hearing on her application before an ALJ was held on July 1,
2015. Ledonne was represented at the hearing and testified.
The ALJ issued a decision on July 31, 2015, finding that
Ledonne was not disabled. In support, the ALJ found that
Ledonne had severe impairments due to lumbar degenerative
disc disease, mood disorder, generalized anxiety disorder,
ADHD, depressive disorder, and polysubstance abuse. The ALJ
found that despite those impairments Ledonne had the residual
functional capacity to do medium work ...