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Chamberlain v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

August 22, 2018

James Fredderick Chamberlain
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration



         James Fredderick Chamberlain seeks judicial review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), of the decision of the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, denying his application for social security disability benefits. Chamberlain contends that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in weighing the medical opinions in the record and inadequately assessed Chamberlain's mental impairments. The Acting Commissioner moves to affirm.

         Standard of Review

         In 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). Substantial evidence is “more than a scintilla of evidence” but less than a preponderance. Purdy v. Berryhill, 887 F.3d 7, 13 (1st Cir. 2018). The court must affirm the ALJ's findings, even if the record could support a different conclusion, as long as “a reasonable mind, reviewing the evidence in the record as a whole, could accept it as adequate to support [the ALJ's] 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.


         Chamberlain previously applied for social security benefits, and his application was denied in 2014. He then filed a second application, alleging an onset date of January 14, 2014, when he was fifty-one years old. His last insured date was December 31, 2014.

         When he was working, Chamberlain was employed as an equipment operator and a janitor. He states that he stopped working in 2009 and alleges impairments due to neck and back pain with sciatica, arthritis, Barrett's esophagus, depression, anxiety, migraine headaches, foot pain, and difficulty sleeping. Chamberlain completed the eighth grade, was single, did not have children, and lived alone.

         Medical records show that Chamberlain was treated at Concord Orthopedics for back pain beginning in 2008, although he also had a back injury in 1999. He sought medical care for depression in 2009 but declined medication and therapy at that time. He also received treatment for reflux disorder. Medical records through 2013 document back pain and treatment.

         Chamberlain continued care at Willowbend Family Practice with Tracey Bottazzi, APRN. She noted in March of 2014 that Chamberlain had chronic pain in his neck but no new symptoms and that he did not take medication daily because of Barrett's esophagus. Nurse Bottazzi also noted that Chamberlain's depression was stable on Cymbalta.

         In April of 2014, Nurse Bottazzi completed a Physical Residual Functional Capacity Questionnaire in which she noted her own diagnoses of Chamberlain's pain due to spinal issues, his treatment, and his limited functional capacity. Also in April of 2014, Chamberlain had consultative examinations done by Juliana Read, Ph.D., a psychologist, and Dr. Peter Loeser, an orthopedist. Non-examining state agency psychologist, Dr. Laura Landerman, and state agency physician, Dr. Burton Nault, also provided opinions about Chamberlain's functional capacity.

         A hearing was held before an ALJ on May 17, 2016. Chamberlain was represented during the process before the ALJ by a non-attorney representative.[1] During the hearing, Dr. John Hackman, a neurological surgeon, and Dr. Delano Bolter, a psychiatrist, testified by telephone. A vocational expert also testified.

         The ALJ issued her decision on June 13, 2016, concluding that Chamberlain was not disabled. In support, the ALJ found that Chamberlain had severe impairments due to degenerative changes in the cervical and lumbar spine and degenerative joint disease in his shoulders. The ALJ found that Chamberlain retained the capacity to do light work without climbing or crawling and with only occasional reaching. She found that Chamberlain could do uncomplicated tasks and could maintain concentration, persistence, and pace for two-hour blocks through an eight-hour work day. Based on that functional capacity, the ALJ found that Chamberlain could not return to his past work but could do work identified by the vocational expert.

         Chamberlain appealed that decision to the Appeals Council, and his representative submitted new evidence in support of the appeal. The Appeals Council denied his request for review and noted that the new evidence did not related to the period at issue for his benefits ...

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