United States District Court, D. New Hampshire
Kevin M. Ell, Claimant
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant
J. McAuliffe United States District Judge.
to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), claimant,
Kevin Ell, 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 and Supplemental Security Income Benefits under
Title XVI. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 423, 1381-1383c
(collectively, the “Act”). The Acting
Commissioner objects and moves for an order affirming her
reasons discussed below, claimant's motion is granted,
and the Acting Commissioner's motion is denied.
October of 2013, claimant filed applications for Disability
Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental
Security Income (“SSI”), alleging that he was
disabled and had been unable to work since January 8, 2011.
Claimant was 40 years old at the time of his alleged onset of
disability and had acquired sufficient quarters of coverage
to remain insured through March of 2011. Those applications
were denied and he requested a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”).
of 2015, claimant, his attorney, and an impartial vocational
expert appeared before an ALJ, who considered claimant's
applications de novo. Three weeks later, the ALJ issued his
written decision, concluding that claimant was not disabled,
as that term is defined in the Act, at any time prior to the
date of his decision. Claimant then requested review by the
Appeals Council. That request was denied. 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.
then filed a “Motion for Order Reversing Decision of
the Commissioner” (document no. 8). In response, the
Acting Commissioner filed a “Motion for an Order
Affirming the Decision of the Commissioner” (document
no. 10). Those motions are pending.
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.
13), need not be recounted in this opinion. Those facts
relevant to the disposition of this matter are discussed as
“Substantial Evidence” and Deferential Review.
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).
Parties' Respective Burdens.
individual seeking SSI and/or DIB benefits is disabled under
the Act if he or she 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). See also 42
U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3). 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 Manso-Pizarro v. Sec'y of
Health & Human Servs., 76 F.3d 15, 17 (1st Cir. 1996);
Gray v. Heckler, 760 F.2d 369, 371 (1st Cir. 1985). 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).
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:
physical 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 ...