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Drouin v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

November 13, 2018

Scott Allan Drouin
v.
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration

          Scott Allan Drouin, pro se

          Sarah E. Choi, Esq.

          John J. Engel, Esq.

          ORDER

          Landya B. McCafferty United States District Judge.

         Scott Allan Drouin, proceeding pro se, brings this suit seeking judicial review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), of the decision of the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, denying his application for disability insurance benefits and social security income benefits. Drouin moves to reverse the Acting Commissioner's decision, and the Acting Commissioner moves to affirm. For the reasons discussed below, the court denies Drouin's motion to reverse and grants the Acting Commissioner's motion to affirm.

         I. Motion to Amend

         On August 17, 2018, Drouin filed his motion to reverse the Acting Commissioner's decision. See doc. no. 11. On September 7, 2018, Drouin filed a motion to amend his motion to reverse, see doc. no. 14, in which he asks the court to consider various pages of the administrative record in support of his original motion. The Acting Commissioner did not file an objection to Drouin's motion to amend.

         The motion to amend is granted. In light of Drouin's pro se status, the court will consider the motion to amend as an addendum to Drouin's motion to reverse and will consider both filings when reviewing the Acting Commissioner's decision.

         II. Judicial Review

         In reviewing the final decision of the Acting Commissioner in a social security case, the court “is limited to determining whether the [Administrative Law Judge] 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. 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) & 1383(c)(3); see also Fischer v. Colvin, 831 F.3d 31, 34 (1st Cir. 2016). “Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Astralis Condo. Ass'n v. Sec'y Dep't of Housing & Urban Dev., 620 F.3d 62, 66 (1st Cir. 2010). In determining whether a claimant is disabled, the ALJ follows a five-step sequential analysis. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4) & 416.920(a)(4).[1] The claimant “has the burden of production and proof at the first four steps of the process.” Freeman v. Barnhart, 274 F.3d 606, 608 (1st Cir. 2001). The first three steps are (1) determining whether the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity; (2) determining whether he has a severe impairment; and (3) determining whether the impairment meets or equals a listed impairment. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(iii).

         At the fourth step of the sequential analysis, the ALJ assesses the claimant's residual functional capacity (“RFC”), which is a determination of the most a person can do in a work setting despite his limitations caused by impairments, Id. § 404.1545(a)(1), and his past relevant work, id. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant can perform his past relevant work, the ALJ will find that the claimant is not disabled. See Id. § 404.1520(a)(4)(iv). If the claimant cannot perform his past relevant work, the ALJ proceeds to Step Five, in which the ALJ has the burden of showing that jobs exist in the economy which the claimant can do in light of the RFC assessment. See Id. § 404.1520(a)(4)(v).

         A. Background[2]

         On December 30, 2014, Drouin filed an application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income benefits, alleging a disability onset date of March 31, 2014.[3]His claims were denied at the initial level on June 9, 2015.

         On June 9, 2016, Drouin, represented by counsel, appeared before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) for a hearing. Drouin testified about his ailments, including difficulties he had using his thumbs. During Drouin's testimony, the ALJ noted that there was insufficient medical opinion evidence in the record regarding the effect of Drouin's ...


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