United States District Court, D. New Hampshire
MCCAFFERTY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Martin seeks judicial review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g) & 1383(c)(3), of the decision of the
Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration,
denying his application for disability insurance benefits and
supplemental security income. Martin moves to reverse the
Acting Commissioner's decision, contending that the
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in
improperly evaluating and weighing the testimony of the state
agency physician, by interpreting raw medical data, and by
ignoring medical evidence in the record relating to
manipulative limitations. For the reasons that follow, the
decision of the Acting Commissioner is affirmed.
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). “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).
13, 2013, Richard Martin applied for disability benefits and
supplemental security income, claiming a disability that
began on March 15, 2013, when he was in a car accident.
Martin was 53 years old at the time of his application. He
had previously worked in landscape construction, cooking and
running a kitchen, working for a moving company, and working
as a cashier and stocker.
date of Martin's car accident, he was taken to
Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (“DHMC”) for
special care by the trauma service for spinal fractures and
upper extremity weakness. While at DHMC, it was determined
that Martin had suffered a facial fracture and a displaced
fracture through his fibula. He was also diagnosed with
central disc protrusions, degenerative disc disease, and soft
tissue swelling. Martin was discharged from DHMC on March 18,
2013, and, on March 26, 2013, he underwent an outpatient
surgical procedure to repair his facial injury.
months following the accident, Martin sought treatment for
his spinal cord injury and upper extremity weakness.
Treatment notes and physical therapy evaluations throughout
2013, 2014, and into early 2015 showed that Martin
consistently made progress in his recovery from his injuries,
although he continued to complain of pain, primarily in his
April 2014, Martin also developed a left knee ailment, which
was eventually diagnosed as a torn meniscus. On July 17,
2014, he underwent a left knee arthroscopy. By October 2014,
Martin reported significant improvement in his knee, and did
not seek further treatment for the injury.
April 6, 2015, a hearing before an ALJ was held on
Martin's application for benefits. Martin was represented
by an attorney and testified at the hearing.
26, 2015, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. The ALJ
found that Martin had severe impairments due to central cord
syndrome, degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine,
and degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine. The ALJ
also discussed numerous impairments that were medically
determinable, but not severe within the meaning of the Social
Security Act. He found that Martin's impairments did not
meet or equal a listed impairment. The ALJ concluded that
Martin had the residual functional capacity to do light work
under 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b) & 416.967(b),
except that he was limited to occasional climbing of ladders,
ropes, and scaffolds, kneeling, crouching and crawling. The
ALJ also concluded that Martin could frequently climb ramps
and stairs, balance, and stoop, and that he should avoid
concentrated exposure to workplace hazards.
that evaluation, the ALJ found that Martin could do his past
relevant work as a cashier/checker and stocker. Therefore,
the ALJ found that Martin was not disabled within the meaning
of the Act. The Appeals Council denied Martin's request
for review, making the ALJ's decision the Acting
Commissioner's final decision.
support of his motion to reverse the Acting
Commissioner's decision, Martin contends that the ALJ
erred by 1) improperly evaluating and weighing the testimony
of the state agency physician, 2) interpreting raw medical
data, and 3) ignoring medical evidence in the record relating
to manipulative limitations. The Acting Commissioner moves to
individual seeking social security income and/or disability
insurance benefits is disabled under the Social Security 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) & 1382c(a)(3)(A). In
determining whether a claimant is disabled for purposes of
social security benefits, 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 him from working. Freeman v.
Barnhart, 274 F.3d 606, 608 (1st Cir. 2001).
fourth step of the sequential analysis, the ALJ assesses the
claimant's residual functional capacity, which is a
determination of the most a person can do in a work setting
despite her limitations caused by impairments, see 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1545(a)(1), and his past relevant work, see
Id. at § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv)). If the claimant
can perform his past relevant work, the ALJ will find that
the claimant is not disabled. See Id. at §
404.1520(a)(4)(iv). The ALJ's residual functional
capacity assessment is reviewed to determine whether it is
supported by substantial evidence. Irlanda Ortiz v.
Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 955 F.2d 765,
769 (1st Cir. 1991).
Weight Given to State Agency Physician's Opinion
contends that the ALJ erred in giving great weight to the
opinion of the state agency physician, Dr. Hugh Fairley, that
Martin would be capable of performing light work with certain
limitations as of March 14, 2014. Specifically, Dr. Fairley,
who issued his opinion on January 24, 2014, stated that
Martin was “considered presently disabled” as of
the date of his opinion. Admin. Rec. at 67. Dr. Fairley
opined, however, that based on Martin's medical records,
which showed consistent improvement in functionality since
his accident, Martin would be able to perform light work with
certain limitations as of March 14, 2014.
criticizes the ALJ's reliance on Dr. Fairley's
opinion for several reasons. He argues that 1) the ALJ failed
to adequately explain Dr. Fairley's opinion that Martin
should be considered disabled as of January 24, 2014, but yet
was still capable of performing light work; 2) the ALJ failed
to consider medical records post-dating Dr. Fairley's
opinion showing that Martin's condition had not improved
as Dr. Fairley expected; and 3) Martin developed new
conditions after Dr. Fairley's opinion that supported a
finding of disability.
is required to consider the medical opinions along with all
other relevant evidence in a claimant's record. 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1527(b). “Medical opinions are statements
from acceptable medical sources that reflect judgments about
the nature and severity of [the claimant's]
impairment(s), including [the claimant's] symptoms,
diagnosis and prognosis, what [the claimant] can still do
despite impairment(s), and [the claimant's] physical or
mental restrictions.” § 404.1527(a)(1). Medical
opinions are evaluated based on the nature of the medical
source's relationship with the claimant, the ...