United States District Court, D. New Hampshire
A. DICLERICO, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Castro seeks judicial review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
405(g), of the decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social
Security, denying her application for disability benefits
under Title II and supplemental security income under Title
XVI of the Social Security Act. Castro moves to reverse on
the ground that the Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) erred in relying on the
Medical-Vocational Guidelines, 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P,
Appendix 2 (“Grid”), to find that she was not
disabled. The Acting Commissioner moves to affirm.
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 mere scintilla.” Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971). When the record could
support differing conclusions, the court must uphold the
ALJ's findings “if a reasonable mind, reviewing the
evidence in the record as a whole, could accept it as
adequate to support his conclusion.” Irlanda Ortiz
v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 955 F.2d 765,
769 (1st Cir. 1991) (internal quotation marks omitted).
applied for both disability benefits under Title II and
supplemental security income under Title XVI. She claimed a
disability beginning in March of 2014 due to an ankle
fracture, left hip pain, and mental health impairments. She
has a high school education and previously worked as a group
leader and an inspector.
joint statement of material facts indicates that Castro had
an ankle injury in May of 2014. She was treated for ankle
pain and related depression. The joint statement focuses on
her mental health issues.
agency psychologist, Jessica A. Stern, examined Castro in
November of 2014. Dr. Stern found that Castro had some
difficulties in social functioning, concentration, and task
completion. She also found that Castro would have trouble
adapting to work because of her leg problems and anhedonia
(inability to enjoy things that normally would be enjoyable).
Dr. Stern diagnosed major depressive disorder, body
dysmorphic disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder.
Landerman, Ph.D., another state agency psychologist, provided
an opinion based on a review of Castro's records in
December of 2014. Dr. Landerman found that Castro had
depressive syndrome that caused her to be moderately limited
in her ability to interact appropriately with the public and
would require a socially isolated work setting. On the other
hand, however, Dr. Landerman found that Castro was not
limited in her ability to ask questions and get assistance,
accept instruction and criticism from supervisors, and get
along with co-workers and peers. She found that despite some
limitations Castro could work within a schedule, maintain
concentration for up to two hours, and work at an acceptable
pace without excessive interruptions due to her psychological
symptoms. The joint statement indicates that Castro continued
to receive counseling and medication management through
January of 2016.
hearing was held before an ALJ on March 17, 2016. The ALJ
issued a decision on August 2, 2016, in which he found that
Castro was not disabled. The ALJ found that Castro had severe
impairments due to reconstructive surgery on her left foot,
affective disorder, somatoform disorder, and anxiety
disorder. Despite those impairments, the ALJ found that
Castro retained the capacity to work at the light exertional
level with limitations to occasional postural movement; to
doing simple, routine, competitive, repetitive, and
non-abstract tasks; to occasional interaction with co-workers
and supervisors; and to no interaction with the public.
on that residual functional capacity, the ALJ used the Grid
to determine that Castro was not disabled. The Appeals
Council denied Castro's request for review, making the
ALJ's decision the final decision of the Acting
contends that the ALJ erred in relying on the Grid when he
found that she had non-exertional limitations. In particular,
Castro contends that the limitation that she could only
interact occasionally with co-workers and supervisors
precluded the ALJ's reliance on the Grid. The Acting
Commissioner argues that the ALJ properly relied on the Grid.
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 her from working. Freeman v.
Barnhart,274 F.3d 606, 608 (1st Cir. 2001). At the
fifth step, the Acting Commissioner has the ...