United States District Court, D. New Hampshire
Christopher G. Roundy, Esq. Terry L. Ollila, AUSA
ORDER ON APPEAL
N. LAPLANTE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Lye Rutman 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 severe
impairments, Rutman 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). The Appeals Council later
denied Rutman's request for review, see Id.
§ 404.967, with the result that the ALJ's decision
became the final decision on her application, see
Id. § 404.981. Rutman then appealed the
decision to this court, which has jurisdiction under 42
U.S.C. § 405(g) (Social Security).
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 Rutman's motion
and grants the Acting Commissioner's motion.
Applicable legal standard
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
relevant 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)).
invoked the requisite five-step sequential evaluation process
in assessing Rutman's request for disability and
disability insurance benefits. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520.
The ALJ found that Rutman was insured under the Social
Security Act only through March 31, 2014. See 42 U.S.C.
§§ 416(i); 423. After determining that Rutman had
not engaged in substantial gainful activity between the
alleged onset of her disability on April 1, 2013 and the date
last insured, the ALJ analyzed the severity of her
impairments. At this second step, the ALJ concluded that
through the date last insured Rutman had several severe
impairments: residual effects from motor vehicle accidents;
chronic regional pain syndrome of the right upper extremity;
carpal tunnel syndrome; migraine headaches; obesity; asthma;
Major Depressive disorder; and Affective
third step, the ALJ found that through the date last insured
Rutman's severe impairments did not meet or
“medically equal” the severity of one of the
impairments listed in the Social Security
regulations. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d),
404.1525, 404.1526. After reviewing the medical evidence of
record, medical opinions, and Rutman's own statements,
the ALJ concluded that Rutman retained the RFC through the
date last insured to perform light work, see 20 C.F.R. §
404.1567(b), with additional limitations:
As for postural limitations, the claimant can stoop, kneel,
crouch, and crawl occasionally. In terms of manipulative
limitations, the claimant can reach, handle, and finger
frequently. She must avoid concentrated exposure to
temperature extremes (i.e. extreme heat and extreme cold),
wetness, humidity, and irritants such as fumes, odors, dusts,
gases, and poorly ventilated areas. The claimant has the
ability to carry out simple routine tasks, but can no
longer remember or carry out detailed instructions.
Furthermore, the claimant is limited to a low stress job
(defined as only occasional decision-making and occasional
changes in work setting), with no more than occasional
interaction with the public and co-workers.
that, even limited in this manner, Rutman was able to perform
jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national
economy through the date last insured, see 20 C.F.R. §
404.1566, the ALJ concluded his analysis and found that
Rutman was not disabled within the meaning of the Social
Security Act through the date last insured.
primarily challenges the ALJ's determination that she
retained the RFC to perform light work, with additional
limitations, through the date last insured. Rutman directs
the argument portion of her memorandum entirely towards this
step-four issue, focusing on the consideration of her right
upper extremity limitations. But, in conclusion, she asks the
court to remand the case for redetermination of the separate
step-three question of whether she had an impairment or
combination of impairments that meets or medically equals one
of the listed impairments in the Social Security
regulations. Rutman has not identified any alleged
error in the ALJ's step-three analysis. In the portion of
that analysis addressing Rutman's right upper extremity
impairment, the ALJ reasonably explains that Rutman's
impairment did not fall under listing 1.02 because her
testimony showed she retained the ability to perform fine and
gross movements with her upper extremities
effectively. As there is no alleged or obvious error in
the step-three analysis, the court focuses on Rutman's
challenge to the ALJ's RFC determination.
brief arguments against the ALJ's RFC determination,
Rutman questions the ALJ's decisions to afford little
weight to both the results of June 2016 functional capacity
testing and a June 2016 opinion submitted by Maria Martin,
PA-C. First, Rutman suggests the ALJ erred by
awarding “partial weight” to an assessment based
on October 2012 functional capacity testing but only
“little weight” to the assessment based on the
2016 testing. The ALJ adequately justified this
difference. The ALJ acknowledged that the 2016 testing showed
that Rutman's “functional capacities have
deteriorated in some aspects such as in her ability to use
her hands and in her lifting ability.”But he gave
that assessment little weight “because it is well after
the expiration of the date last insured and is from an
unacceptable medical source, who cannot provide a medical
opinion.” The 2016 testing occurred a little over
two years after the date Rutman was last ...