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Bean v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

January 22, 2019

Victoria Bean
v.
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of Social Security

          ORDER

          Landya McCafferty United States District Judge

         Victoria Bean seeks judicial review of the decision of the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, denying her application for disability insurance benefits. Bean 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 Bean's motion to reverse.

         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 [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. 2010).

         In determining whether a claimant is disabled, the ALJ follows a five-step sequential analysis. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(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. §§ 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 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. § 404.1520(a)(4)(v).

         BACKGROUND

         A 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.

         On October 8, 2014, Bean filed an application for disability insurance benefits. She alleged a disability onset date of January 1, 2012, when she was 39 years old. She subsequently amended her onset date to January 10, 2013.

         After Bean's claim was denied, she requested a hearing in front of an ALJ. On June 8, 2016, the ALJ held a hearing, during which Bean testified and was represented by an attorney.

         On September 7, 2016, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. He found that Bean had the following severe impairments: degenerative disc disease, status post right shoulder subacromial decompression and biceps tenotomy, left shoulder degenerative disc disease, and obstructive sleep apnea. The ALJ found that Bean's diabetes mellitus and her anxiety disorder and depression were not severe. He further found that Bean had the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1567(b) with certain limitations.

         In assessing Bean's residual functional capacity, the ALJ gave great weight to the opinion of Dr. Louis Rosenthall, the state agency physician. The ALJ ultimately adopted a more restrictive RFC assessment than was contained in Dr. Rosenthall's opinion.

         Christine E. Spaulding, an impartial vocational expert, testified at the hearing. In response to hypotheticals posed by the ALJ, Spaulding testified that a person with Bean's RFC could perform jobs that exist in significant No. in the national economy. Based on Spaulding's testimony, the ALJ found at Step Five that Bean was not disabled.

         Bean requested review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council. With her request, she submitted additional evidence that was not before the ALJ, including a determination from the State of New Hampshire that she was eligible for Medicaid benefits because of her disability.

         On September 21, 2017, the Appeals Council denied Bean's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the Acting ...


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