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Thurston v. Commissioner, Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

January 30, 2019

Wyatt James Thurston
v.
Commissioner, Social Security Administration

          ORDER

          LANDYA MCCAFFERTY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Wyatt James Thurston seeks judicial review of the decision of the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, denying his application for disability insurance benefits. Thurston 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 Thurston'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, where 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. 12). The court provides a brief summary of the case here.

         On October 31, 2014, Thurston filed an application for disability insurance benefits, alleging a disability onset date of September 15, 2013, when he was 24 years old. He alleged a disability due to bipolar disorder, social anxiety disorder, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

         After Thurston's claim was denied at the initial level, he requested a hearing in front of an ALJ. On May 10, 2016, the ALJ held a hearing, during which Thurston testified and was represented by an attorney.

         On August 3, 2016, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. He found that Thurston had the following severe impairments: affective disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and anxiety. He further found that Thurston had the residual functional capacity to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels with certain nonexertional limitations, including only occasional interaction with the public and only simple, routine tasks.

         In assessing Thurston's residual functional capacity, the ALJ gave some weight to the opinion of Dr. Michael Schneider, the non-examining state agency psychologist. The ALJ ultimately adopted a more restrictive RFC assessment than was contained in Dr. Schneider's opinion.

         Ralph E. Richardson, an impartial vocational expert, testified at the hearing. In response to hypotheticals posed by the ALJ, Richardson testified that a person with Thurston's RFC could perform jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy. Based on Richardson's testimony, the ALJ found at Step Five that Thurston was not disabled.

         On September 29, 2017, the Appeals Council denied Thurston's request for review, making the ALJ's decision the Acting ...


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