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Tremblay v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

January 15, 2019

Bryant Thomas Tremblay
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration

          D. Lance Tillinghast, Esq. Hugh Dun Rappaport, Esq.



         Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), Bryant Thomas Tremblay moves to reverse the Acting Commissioner's decision to deny his application for Social Security disability insurance benefits, under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 423. (Doc. No. 8). The Acting Commissioner, in turn, moves for an order affirming her decision. (Doc. No. 10). Those motions are before this magistrate judge for a report and recommendation. For the reasons that follow, the decision of the Acting Commissioner, as announced by the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) should be affirmed.

         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). “Substantial-evidence review is more deferential than it might sound to the lay ear: though certainly ‘more than a scintilla' of evidence is required to meet the benchmark, a preponderance of evidence is not.” Purdy v. Berryhill, 887 F.3d 7, 13 (1st Cir. 2018) (quoting Bath Iron Works Corp. v. U.S. Dep't of Labor, 336 F.3d 51, 56 (1st Cir. 2003)).

         Thus, 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). Ultimately, the court “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 Tremblay's request for benefits. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520. After determining that he met the Social Security Act's insured status requirements and had not engaged substantial gainful activity after the alleged onset of his disability on December 31, 2015, see 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1571 et seq., 416.971 et seq., the ALJ analyzed the severity of Tremblay's impairments. At this second step, the ALJ concluded that Tremblay had the following severe impairments: bipolar disorder and panic disorder with agoraphobia (Admin. R. at 13-14).

         At the third step, the ALJ found that Tremblay's severe impairments did not meet or “medically equal” the severity of one of the impairments listed in the Social Security regulations. (Id. at 14); see 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525, 404.1526.

         After reviewing the medical evidence of record, medical opinions, and Tremblay's own statements, the ALJ concluded that Tremblay retained the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels, but with the following non-exertional limitations:

The claimant is capable of simple routine tasks in two hour blocks, but no fast past (sic) production standards. The claimant can adapt to occasional changes in the work setting and engage in occasional decision making. The claimant should only have occasional interaction with the public, coworkers and supervisors.

(Id. at 15).

         The ALJ found that, limited in this manner, Tremblay would not be able to perform his past relevant work. (Id. at 22). The ALJ found, however, that Tremblay could perform other jobs that exist in the national economy, such as housekeeping and cleaning, garment sorter, and flagger. (Id. at 23-24). The ALJ accordingly found that Tremblay was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act during the relevant time period. (Id. at 24); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g).

         III. Analysis

         Tremblay challenges the ALJ's decision on two grounds: 1) that the ALJ erroneously evaluated opinion evidence in formulating his RFC; and 2) that the ALJ erroneously evaluated Tremblay's testimony regarding his symptoms and ...

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