United States District Court, D. New Hampshire
James T. Briand
US Social Security Administration, Acting Commissioner, Nancy A. Berryhill Opinion No. 2017 DNH 159
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Barbadoro, United States District Judge.
Briand challenges the Social Security Administration's
decision to deny his claim for Supplemental Security Income
and Disability Insurance Benefits. Briand argues that the
Administrative Law Judge incorrectly formulated his residual
functional capacity by omitting a limitation that requires
Briand to periodically take a break from standing.
accordance with Local Rule 9.1, the parties have submitted a
joint statement of stipulated facts (Doc. No. 14).
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.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
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)).
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.
is a 52-year-old man who previously worked as a sandblaster,
pipefitter, and hand cutter. See Tr. 2, 123, 153. He alleges
that he has been disabled since May 31, 2013. Tr. 375, 659.
2013, Briand filed his first application for benefits. Tr.
148. On June 16, 2014, an ALJ denied his claim. Tr. 8. Briand
then challenged the denial by filing an action in this court
over which Judge McCafferty presided. Tr. 424-39; Briand
v. Colvin, 2015 DNH 131. While that action was pending,
Briand filed new applications for benefits, alleging
disability since the day after the ALJ's decision. Tr.
458-79. On May 27, 2015, a single decision-maker approved the
new applications, finding that Briand was disabled because
his hip impairment met a qualifying listing. Tr. 477-78.
decision issued the following month, Judge McCafferty
remanded Briand's challenge to the denial of his 2013
application. Briand, 2015 DNH 131 at 15. Judge
McCafferty explained that an uncontroverted medical opinion
limited Briand to taking a break from standing every 30
minutes (the “sit/stand limitation”), and the ALJ
erred by omitting the limitation from Briand's residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) assessment.
Id. at 14. The Appeals Council, in turn, remanded
the case for reconsideration by the ALJ. Tr. 442-43. The
Appeals Council also instructed the ALJ to evaluate whether
to reopen the single decision-maker's approval of
Briand's 2014 applications. Tr. 442.
remand, the ALJ held a hearing at which a vocational expert,
an orthopedic medical expert, and Briand testified. Tr.
373-402. On March 29, 2016, the ALJ issued a new decision
concluding that Briand was not disabled. Tr. 340-372. The ALJ
reopened the single decision-maker's approval and
specified that the ALJ's latest conclusions ran from the
alleged onset date through the date of the 2016 decision. Tr.
343-44, 362-63. Briand then filed this action challenging the
decision. Doc. No. 1.
argues, inter alia, that the ALJ erred by again failing to
include the sit/stand limitation in the RFC. Although no such
limitation was found by the orthopedic expert who testified
at the remand hearing, Briand observes that the expert's
opinion was based strictly on Briand's orthopedic
conditions, and the expert did not consider Briand's
other medically determinable impairments and their functional
implications. In response, the Acting Commissioner
acknowledges the limited scope of the expert's opinion,
but argues that the ALJ permissibly omitted the sit/stand
limitation because Briand's non-orthopedic impairments
were not severe. See Doc. No. 12-1 at 12-13; see also Doc.
No. 14 at 6. For the following reasons, I conclude
that the ALJ erred in formulating Briand's RFC.