United States District Court, D. New Hampshire
Lance Tillinghast, Esq., Terry L. Ollila, Esq.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
K. Johnstone, United States Magistrate Judge
Haskell challenges the Social Security Administration's
denial of his claim for Supplemental Security Income
("SSI"). An administrative law judge
("ALJ") determined that Haskell was not disabled as
of January 1, 2016, because the severe impairments from which
he suffers did not meet or medically equal a listing in the
Social Security regulations and Haskell retained a residual
functional capacity ("RFC") to perform jobs that
exist in sufficient numbers in the national economy.
See 20 C.F.R. § 416.905(a). The Appeals Council
denied Haskell's request for review, rendering the
ALJ's decision the Acting Commissioner's final
decision on Haskell's application. See id.
§ 416.1481. Haskell sought judicial review in this
court, see 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), and the case was
referred to the undersigned magistrate judge for report and
moves to reverse the Acting Commissioner's decision (doc.
no. 9), and the Acting Commissioner cross-moves to have that
decision affirmed (doc. no. 11). Finding no reversible error,
the court recommends that the district judge deny
Haskell's motion and grant the Acting Commissioner's
reviewing the final decision of the Acting Commissioner, the
court "is limited 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). The court
defers to the ALJ's findings of fact so long as they are
supported by substantial evidence. Id.
"Substantial-evidence review is more deferential than it
may sound," requiring "more than a scintilla of
evidence" but less than a preponderance. Purdy v.
Berryhill, 887 F.3d 7, 13 (1st Cir. 2018) (citations and
internal quotation marks omitted). Even if the record could
support a different conclusion, the court must affirm the
ALJ's findings when "a reasonable mind, reviewing
the evidence in the record as a whole, could accept it as
adequate to support [the ALJ's] conclusion."
Id. (brackets, ellipsis, quotation marks, and
citations omitted). The ALJ is responsible for determining
issues of credibility, drawing permissible inferences from
the evidence in the record, and resolving conflicts in the
record evidence. See id.
was found to be disabled as a child and received childhood
SSI benefits. See doc. no. 12 at 1. His disability
was redetermined when he turned 18 under the criteria applied
when an adult applies for SSI benefits. See 42
U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(H)(iii); 20 C.F.R. § 416.987.
Under those criteria, Haskell was found to not be disabled,
and that determination was upheld on reconsideration.
See doc. no. 12 at 1. Haskell timely requested a
hearing before an ALJ, which was held on July 26, 2017.
Id. Haskell appeared at the hearing with counsel and
offered testimony. See Admin. Rec. at 39-57. A
vocational expert also testified at the hearing. Id.
at 57-62. On August 24, 2017, the ALJ issued an unfavorable
reaching her decision, the ALJ employed the requisite
five-step sequential analysis. See 20 C.F.R. §
416.920. The ALJ determined that the first step - whether the
claimant is engaged in substantial gainful activity - does
not apply when redetermining whether a person who received
benefits as a child is entitled to benefits as an adult.
See 20 C.F.R. § 416.987(b). At the second step,
the ALJ concluded that Haskell had the following severe
impairments: "complex cyanotic congenital heart disease,
asthma, anxiety disorder, and a learning disorder."
Admin. Rec. at 17. At step three, the ALJ determined that
Haskell's impairments did not meet or medically equal the
severity of one of the impairments listed in the Social
Security regulations. Id.; see also 20
C.F.R. §§ 416.920(d), 416.925, and 416.926.
four, the ALJ considered whether Haskell retained the RFC to
perform work as defined in 20 C.F.R. § 416.967. Admin.
Rec. at 20. The ALJ determined that since January 1, 2016,
Haskell retained the RFC to perform light work, subject to
certain limitations. Admin Rec. at 20; see also 20
C.F.R. § 416.967(b) (light work). In reaching her
conclusion, the ALJ considered the medical evidence in the
record, certain medical opinions, and Haskell's own
statements and testimony. See Admin. Rec. at 20.
Haskell's physical impairments, the ALJ concluded that
the medical evidence demonstrated that Haskell had "a
history significant for complex cyanotic congenital heart
disease, as well as asthma," but that his treatment
notes showed that his conditions were "well
managed." Id. at 21. In addition to
Haskell's treatment notes, the ALJ considered medical
opinions on Haskell's physical impairments from Dr.
Michael Flanagan, Haskell's treating cardiologist; APRN
Catherine Holub-Smith, who treated Haskell for general
medical issues; and Dr. Louis Rosenthall and Dr. Jonathan
Jaffee, both state agency consultants. See id. at
24. While the ALJ gave great weight to Dr. Flanagan's
opinion that Haskell required "some environment exposure
limitations," she concluded that Dr. Flanagan's
opinion was entitled to little weight overall because it was
not supported by his own treatment notes or by the other
medical evidence in the record. Id. at 23. The ALJ
gave APRN Holub-Smith's opinion little weight on the
basis that, as an APRN, Holub-Smith was not an acceptable
medical source under the Social Security regulations and
because her opinions were similarly not supported by the
medical evidence or her own treatment notes. Id. at
24. The ALJ gave Dr. Rosenthall's opinion great weight,
concluding that it was consistent with both the medical
evidence in the record and Haskell's own representations
about his ability to engage in daily activities. See
id. at 24-25. Though the ALJ acknowledged that
additional treatment notes were added to the record after Dr.
Rosenthall performed his review, she concluded that those
notes and the record generally did not demonstrate that
Haskell's condition meaningfully changed during that time
period. Id. at 24. The ALJ gave Dr. Jaffe's
opinion partial weight, concluding that all of the
limitations Dr. Jaffe identified were well supported in the
record except for his opinion that Haskell would be limited
to sedentary work. Id. at 25.
mental health, the ALJ determined that the treatment notes in
the record supported the conclusion that Haskell had an
anxiety disorder and a learning disorder. See id.
The ALJ concluded that "[t]he record overall does
support some work-related limitations due to [these
impairments]," but that "the treatment notes do not
suggest that [Haskell] requires limitations in excess of
those identified" in the RFC. Id. at 27. The
ALJ also considered the medical opinions of David Ferrulo,
MSW, who provided Haskell with mental-health treatment, and
state-agency consultants Dr. Michael Schneider and Dr.
Patricia Salt, who reviewed medical evidence that included
assessments of Haskell's mental functioning performed by
Dr. William Dinan and Dr. Ross Gourvitz. Id. at
28-29. The ALJ gave MSW Ferrulo's opinion on
Haskell's social interactions and adaptations partial
weight, concluding that the record evidence did not support
the full extent of MSW Ferrulo's recommended
restrictions. See id. at 27-28. The ALJ concluded
that the medical evidence supported MSW Ferrulo's opinion
that Haskell had difficulty tolerating stress, but found that
this limitation was "fully accounted for in the
RFC." Id. at 28. The ALJ did not find
persuasive Dr. Schneider's conclusion that Haskell had no
mental impairments, noting that additional treatment notes
were added to the record after Dr. Schneider performed his
review showing that Haskell required some limitations based
on mental health. Id. For the same reason, the ALJ
was not persuaded by Dr. Salt's opinion that Haskell did
not have a severe mental health impairment. See id.
also considered Haskell's own statements and testimony.
She concluded that Haskell's impairments could reasonably
be expected to produce the symptoms he described at the
hearing. See id. at 21. But she found that
Haskell's statements about the intensity, persistence,
and limiting effects of those symptoms were "not
entirely consistent with the medical evidence or other
evidence in the record." Id. She therefore only
accepted Haskell's statements "to the extent they
can reasonably be accepted as consistent with the objective
medical and other evidence." Id.
concluded that Haskell retained the RFC to perform light work
with certain limitations, the ALJ turned to step five of the
sequential analysis: whether jobs existed in significant
numbers in the national economy that Haskell could perform.
An independent vocational expert testified that an individual
with Haskell's age, education, work experience, and RFC
could perform several jobs that existed in significant
numbers in the national economy as ...