United States District Court, D. New Hampshire
A. DiClerico, Jr. United States District Judge
Lynne Avery seeks judicial review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g), of the Acting Commissioner's decision,
denying her application for disability benefits under Title
II of the Social Security Act. Avery moves to reverse,
contending that the Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) erred in evaluating her testimony, which
resulted in an erroneous finding 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 scintilla
of evidence” but less than a preponderance of the
evidence. Purdy v. Berryhill, 887 F.3d 7, 13 (1st Cir. 2018)
(internal quotation marks omitted). 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); accord
Purdy, 887 F.3d at 13.
for purposes of disability insurance benefits means
“inability 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(c)(1)(A). In determining whether a claimant is disabled,
the ALJ follows a five-step sequential analysis. 20 C.F.R.
§ 404.1520; Purdy, 887 F.3d at 10. 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 “evidence
of specific jobs in the national economy that the applicant
can still perform.” Purdy, 887 F.3d at 10.
alleged that she became disabled on April 1, 2012, when she
was thirty-nine years old. She contends that her disability
is due to high blood pressure with complications, migraine
headaches, anxiety, panic attacks, and a back injury. A
hearing before an ALJ was held on her application.
medical evidence begins in September of 2012, when Avery went
to the hospital because of pain and headaches. She was
pregnant with her first child at that time but had not
received any prenatal care. She was transferred to another
hospital, put on medication, and her son was delivered
prematurely because of Avery's worsening hypertension.
After the delivery, Avery did well with no complications.
of 2013, she was seen at Maine Medical Center to coordinate
her care because she was pregnant with her second child and
had chronic hypertension. Avery reported severe migraines
that were treated with Vicodin, although providers were
concerned about neonatal withdrawal. Avery's hypertension
was controlled with medication. She required treatment again
in August of 2013 for migraine pain and vomiting. In
September, she again had episodes of high blood pressure and
headache, and her second child was delivered early because of
Avery's preeclampsia. She left the hospital four days
the fall, Avery was treated for migraines. Providers tried
different medications for her migraine pain. In November, she
began a new treatment for migraines that resulted in
improvement of frequency and severity of headaches. Avery had
difficulty controlling her blood pressure, so that providers
tried different medications. By July of 2014, Avery's
symptoms had improved, and her blood pressure was controlled.
October of 2015, Avery reported anxiety that was causing her
blood pressure to rise. The provider recommended counseling
and increased Avery's blood pressure medication. Avery
reported improvement in November.
Peter Loeser did a consultative examination of Avery in
December of 2015 and completed a form for physical functional
capacity. Dr. Loeser found that Avery's blood pressure
was high and he recommended that she follow up with her
providers. All other parts of the examination showed normal
results, with no neurological deficits, normal strength,
normal sensation, and normal ability to sit, stand, and do
postural activities. In his assessment, Dr. Loeser found no
hearing on January 7, 2016, Avery testified that she was
married and had two young disabled sons. She said that
neither she nor her husband was working and that the family
lived with her husband's mother who helped to take care
of them. Avery does not drive.
asked to explain why she could not work, Avery testified that
her migraine headaches caused symptoms that include nausea
and auras. She said that her hands and feet swelled so that
she cannot walk, that missing medications can cause
disastrous symptoms, that she cannot do heavy lifting or
physical activity, that she cannot do long-term screen work,
and that she cannot grasp or hold things. Avery testified
that working in the past made her blood pressure get too high
and that physical activity made her blood pressure ...