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Wylder v. U.S. Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

July 2, 2018

Summayyab Ann MNC Wylder
v.
U.S. Social Security Administration, Commissioner

          ORDER ON APPEAL

          JOSEPH N. LAPLANTE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Summayyan Ann MNC Wylder has appealed the Social Security Administration's (“SSA”) denial of her application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits. An administrative law judge (“ALJ”) at the SSA ruled that, despite several severe impairments, Wylder retains the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy, and thus is not disabled. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505(a), 416.905(a). The Appeals Council granted Wylder's request for review, see id. § 404.967, requiring the ALJ to reconsider that decision, taking certain evidence into consideration. Having done so, the ALJ again concluded that Wylder is not disabled. The Appeals Council denied Wylder's second request for review, with the result that the ALJ's second decision became the final decision on her application, see id. § 404.981. Wylder then appealed the decision to this court, which has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (Social Security).

         Wylder has moved to reverse the decision. See LR 9.1(b). The Acting Commissioner of the SSA has cross-moved for an order affirming the ALJ's decision. See LR 9.1(e). After careful consideration, the court denies Wylder's motion and grants the Acting Commissioner's motion.

         I. Applicable legal standard

         The court limits its review of a final decision of the SSA “to determining whether the ALJ used the proper legal standards and found facts upon the proper quantum of evidence.” Ward v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec, 211 F.3d 652, 655 (1st Cir. 2000). It “review[s] questions of law de novo, but defer[s] to the Commissioner's findings of fact, so long as they are supported by substantial evidence, ” id., that is, “such evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion, ” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quotations omitted). Though the evidence in the record may support multiple conclusions, the court will still 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). The court therefore “must uphold a denial of social security . . . benefits unless ‘the [Acting Commissioner] has committed a legal or factual error in evaluating a particular claim.'” Manso-Pizarro v. Sec'y of Health and Human Servs., 76 F.3d 15, 16 (1st Cir. 1996) (per curiam) (quoting Sullivan v. Hudson, 490 U.S. 877, 885 (1989)).

         II. Background [1]

         The ALJ invoked the requisite five-step sequential evaluation process in assessing Wylder's request for disability and disability insurance benefits. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. After determining that Wylder had not engaged in substantial gainful activity after the alleged onset of her disability on June 3, 2009, the ALJ analyzed the severity of her impairments. At this second step, the ALJ concluded that Wylder had several impairments: posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), unspecified depressive disorder, hoarding disorder, obesity, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, and osteoarthritis of the right knee.[2]

         At the third step, the ALJ found that Wylder's severe impairments did not meet or “medically equal” the severity of one of the impairments listed in the Social Security regulations.[3] See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526, 416.920(d), 416.925, and 416.926. After reviewing the medical evidence of record, medical opinions, and Wylder's own statements, the ALJ concluded that Wylder retained the RFC to perform light work, see 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b), except that she:

can occasionally climb ramps and stairs; . . . must avoid exposure to extremes of temperature and pulmonary irritants such as fumes, dusts, and gasses; . . . is able to perform simple, routine tasks for two-hour blocks of time, and cannot understand, remember, or carry out detailed instructions; . . . can tolerate up to occasional interaction with co-workers, but cannot engage in tandem tasks; . . . can tolerate up to occasional interaction with the public; and . . . requires a low-stress job, defined as one involving up to occasional decision-making.[4]

         Finding that, even limited in this manner, Wylder was able to perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy, see 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1566 and 416.966, the ALJ concluded his analysis and found that Wylder was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act.

         III. Analysis

         Wylder argues that the ALJ's RFC determination with respect to her mental limitations[5] is not supported by substantial evidence. Specifically, Wylder contends that the ALJ failed to account for, and his RFC determination runs contrary to, three specific statements in Dr. Robert Prescott's March 2016 opinion, which the ALJ afforded “great weight.”[6] In that opinion, Dr. Prescott concluded, among other things, that Wylder:

• “does not appear typically able to be around unfamiliar or too many others without considerable distress”;
• “would not be expected to effectively maintain concentration for extended periods as well as ...

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