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Scully v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

January 3, 2018

Timothy Scully, Claimant
v.
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant

          ORDER

          STEVEN J. MCAULIFFE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), claimant, Timothy Scully, moves to reverse or vacate the Acting Commissioner's decision denying his applications for Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act (the “Act”), 42 U.S.C. § 423. The Acting Commissioner objects and moves for an order affirming her decision.

         For the reasons discussed below, claimant's motion is denied, and the Acting Commissioner's motion is granted.

         Factual Background

         I. Procedural History.

         In July of 2014, claimant filed applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”), alleging that he was disabled and had been unable to work since February 22, 2014. That application was denied on February 18, 2015, and claimant requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”).

         On March 18, 2016, claimant, his attorney, and an impartial vocational expert appeared before an ALJ, who considered claimant's application de novo. On April 20, 2016, the ALJ issued his written decision, concluding that claimant was not disabled, as that term is defined in the Act, through the date of his decision. Claimant then requested review by the Appeals Council, and submitted additional documentation from Ashok Shah, M.D., in support of his claim. The Appeals Council denied claimant's request for review, and found that the additional information provided by claimant did not show a reasonable probability that, either alone or when considered with the other evidence of record, would change the outcome of the ALJ's decision. Accordingly, the ALJ's denial of claimant's applications for benefits became the final decision of the Acting Commissioner, subject to judicial review. Subsequently, claimant filed a timely action in this court, asserting that the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence.

         Claimant then filed a “Motion to Reverse Decision of the Commissioner” (document no. 9). In response, the Acting Commissioner filed a “Motion for an Order Affirming the Decision of the Commissioner” (document no. 11). Those motions are pending.

         II. Stipulated Facts.

         Pursuant to this court's Local Rule 9.1, the parties have submitted a joint statement of stipulated facts which, because it is part of the court's record (document no. 12), need not be recounted in this opinion. Those facts relevant to the disposition of this matter are discussed as appropriate.

         Standard of Review

         I. “Substantial Evidence” and Deferential Review.

         Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the court is empowered “to enter, upon the pleadings and transcript of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing.” Factual findings and credibility determinations made by the Commissioner are conclusive if supported by substantial evidence. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). See also Irlanda Ortiz v. Secretary of Health & Human Services, 955 F.2d 765, 769 (1st Cir. 1991). Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938). Importantly, it is something less than a preponderance of the evidence, so the possibility of drawing two inconsistent conclusions from the evidence does not prevent an administrative agency's finding from being supported by substantial evidence. Consolo v. Federal Maritime Comm'n., 383 U.S. 607, 620 (1966). See also Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971).

         II. The Parties' Respective Burdens.

         An individual seeking DIB benefits is disabled under the Act if he is unable “to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). The Act places a heavy initial burden on the claimant to establish the existence of a disabling impairment. See Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146-47 (1987); Santiago v. Secretary of Health & Human Services, 944 F.2d 1, 5 (1st Cir. 1991). To satisfy that burden, the claimant must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that his impairment prevents him from performing his former type of work. See Gray v. Heckler, 760 F.2d 369, 371 (1st Cir. 1985); Paone v. Schweiker, 530 F.Supp. 808, 810-11 (D. Mass. 1982). If the claimant demonstrates an inability to perform his previous work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that there are other jobs in the national economy that he can perform, in light of his age, education, and prior work experience. See Vazquez v. Secretary of Health & Human Services, 683 F.2d 1, 2 (1st Cir. 1982). See also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1512(f) and 416.912(f).

         In assessing a disability claim, the Commissioner considers both objective and subjective factors, including: (1) objective medical facts; (2) the claimant's subjective claims of pain and disability, as supported by the testimony of the claimant or other witnesses; and (3) the claimant's educational background, age, and work experience. See, e.g., Avery v. Secretary of Health & Human Services, 797 F.2d 19, 23 (1st Cir. 1986); Goodermote v. Secretary of Health & Human Services, 690 F.2d 5, 6 (1st Cir. 1982). Ultimately, a claimant is disabled only if his:

[P]hysical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy, regardless of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or whether he would be hired if he applied for work.

42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A).

         With those principles in mind, the court reviews claimant's motion to reverse and the Acting ...


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