United States District Court, D. New Hampshire
MCCAFFERTY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Breitmaier seeks judicial review of the decision of the
Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration,
denying in part his application for disability insurance
benefits and supplemental social security income. Breitmaier
moves to reverse the Acting Commissioner's decision, and
the Acting Commissioner moves to affirm. For the reasons
discussed below, the court grants the Acting
Commissioner's motion to affirm and denies
Breitmaier's motion to reverse.
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);
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.
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). 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 she has a severe
impairment; and (3) determining whether the impairment meets
or equals a listed impairment. 20 C.F.R. §§
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 her 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. §
detailed statement of the facts can be found in the
parties' Joint Statement of Material Facts (doc. no. 11).
The court provides a brief summary of the case here.
December 29, 2013, Breitmaier filed an application for
disability insurance benefits and, on the following day, he
filed an application for supplemental social security income.
In both applications, he alleged a disability onset date of
October 13, 2013, when he was 39 years old. He alleged a
disability due to stroke, type II diabetes, unidentified mass
at the base of his skull, severe fatigue, and kidney issues.
Breitmaier's claim was denied, he requested a hearing in
front of an ALJ. On January 15, 2016, the ALJ held a hearing,
during which Breitmaier testified and was represented by an
the hearing, the ALJ sent medical interrogatories to Dr.
Malini Balakrishnan, an impartial medical expert. Dr.
Balakrishnan reviewed Breitmaier's medical records,
answered the ALJ's interrogatories, and completed a
medical source statement of Breitmaier's ability to do
work-related activities. The ALJ sent Dr. Balakrishnan's
responses to Breitmaier's counsel, proposing to enter
them into the record and inviting Breitmaier's attorney
to submit comments on the evidence, ask questions to Dr.
Balakrishnan, and/or request a supplemental hearing. In
response, Breitmaier's counsel requested a supplemental
hearing and asked that a vocational expert be
November 10, 2016, the ALJ held the supplemental hearing.
Breitmaier, with counsel, appeared and testified, as did a
Medical Opinion Evidence
suffered two strokes: the first in October 2013 and the
second in April 2014. The medical record contains the
opinions of two of Breitmaier's treating physicians: Dr.
Alexander Asch and Dr. Rohit Marawar. It also contains the
opinions of consultative psychiatrist Dr. Edward Drummond and
the impartial medical expert, Dr. Balakrishnan.
Drummond gave Breitmaier a psychological consultative exam in
August 2014. Dr. Drummond opined that Breitmaier could
understand and remember simple instructions and could pay
attention, concentrate, and complete simple tasks
appropriately and independently on a sustained basis, though
he would be unable to do so at a reasonable pace. He also
opined that despite his limitation, Breitmaier could be