United States District Court, D. New Hampshire
W. McKenna, Esq.
David Plourde, Esq.
McCafferty United States District Judge.
Muniz seeks judicial review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
405(g), of the decision of the Acting Commissioner of the
Social Security Administration, denying his application for
disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social
Security Act. Because the Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) failed to properly consider opinion
evidence and improperly relied on his own interpretation of
the medical record, the court remands the case to the Social
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).
determining whether a claimant is disabled, the ALJ follows a
five-step sequential analysis. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. The
claimant bears the burden through the first four steps of
proving that her impairments preclude her from
working. Freeman v. Barnhart, 274 F.3d
606, 608 (1st Cir. 2001). At the fifth step, the Acting
Commissioner has the burden of showing that jobs exist which
the claimant can do. Heggarty v. Sullivan, 947 F.2d
990, 995 (1st Cir. 1991).
filed an application for social security benefits, alleging
disability beginning in July 2010 because of back pain,
hepatitis C, depression, anxiety, insomnia, acid reflux,
GERD, sciatica, and thyroid problems. A hearing was held
before ALJ Thomas Merrill in September 2012. In a decision
issued later that month, the ALJ found at Step Two of the
sequential analysis that Muniz did not have a severe
impairment and, therefore, was not disabled.
Appeals Council directed the ALJ to reconsider evidence of
whether Muniz had a severe impairment at Step Two. In
response, a second hearing was held before ALJ Merrill. The
ALJ again found at Step Two that Muniz did not have a severe
impairment and was not disabled. This time, the Appeals
Council denied review.
medical records begin in February 2010 when Muniz was
diagnosed with hepatitis, and was also examined and treated
for back pain. In July 2010, Muniz was also treated for
depression, and medical records show that he was taking
Methadone at the time, but taking more than he was
prescribed. Muniz continued to seek treatment for depression
done in July 2010 showed disc bulge that was greatest at
¶ 5-S1 with mild to moderate narrowing of the left
neural foramen but without compression of the nerve root.
After the MRI, Muniz began treatment with the Orthopedic
Professional Association clinic, and Dr. Anthony Salerni
recommended epidural steroid injections and physical therapy.
In August, Muniz began treatment at the Interventional Spine
Medicine clinic with Dr. Slezak for low back pain. Dr. Slezak
administered steroid injections, but the clinic discontinued
Muniz's treatment in early 2011.
March 2011, Muniz sought care for back pain at the PainCare
clinic. Nurse Greg Aprilliano at the PainCare clinic noted
that Muniz reported taking 10 100 milligram tablets of
Methadone each day and also noted that Muniz's complaints
of pain exceeded the reported pathology in his back.
Muniz's doctors recommended that he wean from Methadone.
The PainCare clinic stopped prescribing pain medications and
subsequently cancelled Muniz's treatment because he tried
to “double dip” on his prescription.
2011, a state medical consultant, Dr. MacEachran, completed a
physical residual functional capacity assessment of Muniz. He
found that Muniz was limited to lifting no more than 10
pounds occasionally, standing and walking for no more than
two to three hours in a day, sitting for no more than six
hours, and only occasional postural ...