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Maynard v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

September 14, 2017

Amanda Maynard
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security[1] Opinion No. 2017 DNH 188


          Landya McCafferty United States District Judge.

         Amanda Maynard seeks judicial review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), of the decision of the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, denying her application for social security disability benefits. Because the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in her assessment of Maynard's residual functional capacity by improperly evaluating and weighing the medical evidence, the court remands the case to the Social Security Administration.

         Standard of Review

         In 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). “Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Astralis Condo. Ass'n v. Sec'y Dep't of Housing & Urban Dev., 620 F.3d 62, 66 (1st Cir. 2010).


         On July 26, 2013, Amanda Maynard applied for social security disability benefits, claiming a disability that began on June 19, 2013. Maynard alleged that she was disabled because of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (“COPD”), effects of a brain aneurysm, severe left main coronary artery disease, hyponatremia, and degenerative disc disease. Maynard was 50 years old at the time of her application. She had previously worked as a medical device assembler, production supervisor, and a medical assistant.

         I. Medical Evidence

         The medical evidence in the administrative record begins on June 5, 2013, when Maynard was diagnosed with “advanced cervical degenerative disc disease at multiple levels.” That same day, Dr. Kishori Somyreddy of Cocheco Neurology noted at her physical exam that Maynard had “decreased cervical range of motion, restriction of neck flexion and extension, ” and instructed Maynard to wear a soft neck brace and to avoid heavy exertion or lifting. Maynard subsequently had an MRI exam, which showed, among other things, straightening of the cervical spine and multilevel spinal stenosis. Dr. Somyreddy recommended epidural steroid injections, encouraged Maynard to take ibuprofen, and prescribed tramadol. Maynard had ongoing treatment for her back and neck pain throughout 2013.

         On June 19, 2013, Maynard was admitted to Frisbie Memorial Hospital after suffering a subarachnoid hemorrhage. A CT scan also showed a left posterior communicating artery aneurysm. Maynard was transferred to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center later that same day, and was hospitalized there from June 19 until July 13, 2013, undergoing several operations and procedures during her stay. When she was discharged on July 17, Maynard was restricted to lifting three-to-five pounds, advised to restrict strenuous activity, and directed not to drive until cleared by neurosurgery. She received clearance to drive in July 2014. Maynard's prescriptions included aspirin, Keppra (an anti-convulsant), and a narcotic pain medication.

         On August 27, 2013, Maynard had a follow-up appointment at Dartmouth-Hitchcock with Dr. David Roberts and Dr. David Soucy, PA-C. Maynard reported that she was doing well and that she noticed increased left eye opening about a week and a half prior to the appointment. Maynard had left eyelid ptosis, her left pupil was approximately four millimeters and nonreactive, and she had a third ocular nerve palsy. PA Soucy told Maynard to remain on Keppra for at least a year, and continue to take aspirin.

         On October 14, 2013, Dr. Hugh Fairley, a state agency consultative physician, reviewed Maynard's medical records of physical impairments. Dr. Fairley opined that Maynard was limited to lifting and carrying up to 10 pounds occasionally and frequently and that she was limited to standing and/or walking for up to four hours and sitting up to six hours in an eight-hour workday. He further opined that Maynard was limited to occasionally climbing ramps, stairs, ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, as well as occasionally balancing, stooping kneeling, crouching and crawling. Dr. Fairley also opined that Maynard had no manipulative or visual limitations, but that her speaking was limited and she needed to avoid work requiring constant and verbal communications.

         On October 29, 2013, Maynard saw Dr. Clifford Eskey. Dr. Eskey concluded that Maynard suffered from easy fatiguability, sensory overload, and word finding problems, which were slowly improving. Dr. Eskey assessed that Maynard continued to recover from the subarachnoid hemorrhage, and noted that Maynard would be evaluated by vocational therapy about returning to work, at least on a part-time basis initially.

         Maynard continued to feel no significant improvement in her cervical neck pain through early 2014. She received two cervical epidural steroid injections, on November 6, 2013 and January 7, 2014, to alleviate the pain.

         II. Function Report

         On September 3, 2013, Maynard submitted a Function Report to the Social Security Administration. Maynard wrote in the Function Report that she was limited in her ability to work because she was currently “healing from an aneurysm in [her] brain ...

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