United States District Court, D. New Hampshire
Kellie A. Ouellette, Claimant
Nancy A. Berryhill, Deputy Commissioner For Operations, Performing the duties and functions not reserved to the Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant
Alexandra M. Jackson, Esq. Karen B. Fitzmaurice, Esq.
Penelope E. Gronbeck, Esq.
J. McAuliffe United States District Judge
to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), claimant,
Kellie A. Ouellette, moves to reverse the Acting
Commissioner's decision denying her application for
Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II of the Social
Security Act (the “Act”), 42 U.S.C. § 423,
and Supplemental Security Income Benefits under Title XVI of
the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383(c). The Deputy
Commissioner for Operations objects and moves for an order
affirming the decision.
reasons discussed below, claimant's motion is granted,
and the Commissioner's motion is denied.
August 19, 2014, claimant protectively filed applications for
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”), and
Supplemental Security Income, alleging that she was disabled
and had been unable to work since June 9, 2014. Those
applications were denied on November 14, 2014, and claimant
requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
4, 2016, claimant, her attorney, and an impartial vocational
expert appeared before an ALJ, who considered claimant's
application de novo. On May 25, 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. The Appeals Council denied claimant's request
for review. 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 to Reverse Decision of the
Commissioner” (document no. 11). In response, the
Acting Commissioner filed a “Motion for an Order
Affirming the Decision of the Commissioner” (document
no. 12). 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.
17), need not be recounted in this opinion. Those facts
relevant to the disposition of this matter are discussed as
“Substantial Evidence” and Deferential
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).
court's review of the ALJ's decision is, therefore,
both limited and deferential. The court is not empowered to
consider claimant's application de novo, nor may it
undertake an independent assessment of whether she is
disabled under the Act. Rather, the court's inquiry 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). Provided the ALJ's findings
are properly supported by substantial evidence, the court
must sustain those findings even when there may also be
substantial evidence supporting the contrary position.
Such is the nature of judicial review of disability benefit
determinations. See, e.g., Tsarelka v. Secretary
of Health & Human Services, 842 F.2d 529, 535 (1st
Cir. 1988); Rodriguez v. Secretary of Health & Human
Services, 647 F.2d 218, 222 (1st Cir. 1981).
The Parties' ...