United States District Court, D. New Hampshire
MCCAFFERTY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
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.
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). 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, 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. §
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
September 29, 2017, the Appeals Council denied Thurston's
request for review, making the ALJ's decision the Acting