United States District Court, D. New Hampshire
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
K. Johnstone, United States Magistrate Judge.
Ortega seeks judicial review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
405 (g), of the decision of the Acting Commissioner of the
Social Security Administration denying her application for
disability insurance benefits and supplemental social
security income benefits. Ortega moves to reverse the Acting
Commissioner's decision, and the Acting Commissioner
moves to affirm. 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
court's review of a final decision of the Acting
Commissioner in a social security case “is limited to
determining whether the ALJ 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 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 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 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));
Astralis Condo. Ass'n v. Sec'y Dep't of
Housing & Urban Dev., 620 F.3d 62, 66 (1st Cir.
2010) (“Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla.
It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might
accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”).
October 18, 2016, Ortega filed an application for disability
insurance benefits and supplemental social security income.
She alleged an amended disability onset date of August 28,
2016. Ortega alleged a disability due to
attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
(“ADHD”), memory problems, trust issues, and an
Ortega's claim was denied, she requested a hearing in
front of an ALJ. On February 21, 2018, the ALJ held a
hearing, during which Ortega, who was represented by an
attorney, appeared and testified.
March 15, 2018, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. In
reaching her decision, the ALJ employed the requisite
five-step sequential analysis. See 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520. At the first step, the ALJ determined that
Ortega had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since
the amended alleged onset date of August 28, 2016.
second step, the ALJ found the following severe impairments:
ADHD, depression, and anxiety. The ALJ found that
Ortega's aneurysm, though medically determined, was not a
severe impairment. The ALJ also found that Ortega had
hypertension, which was medically determined but non-severe.
At the third step, the ALJ found that Ortega's
impairments did not meet or medically equal the severity of
one of the impairments listed in the Social Security
four, the ALJ considered whether Ortega retained the residual
functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform work as
defined in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1545. The ALJ found that
Ortega had the RFC to perform “a full range of work at
all exertional levels, ” except that she was limited to
“simple tasks performed in two-hour blocks over a
typical workday and workweek; occasional superficial
interaction with the public; occasional interaction with
coworkers and supervisors; and occasional changes in routine
and work setting.” Admin. Rec. at 21. In reaching this
conclusion, the ALJ considered the medical evidence in the
record, certain medical opinions, and Ortega's statements
and testimony. See Id. at 19-25.
assessing Ortega's RFC, the ALJ gave great weight to the
opinion of Michael Schneider, Psy.D, a non-examining
reviewing consultant, on the basis of his experience and
specialty in mental health. The ALJ also found that Dr.
Schneider's opinion was most consistent with the record.
The ALJ gave “partial weight” to the May 2017
examining opinion of Sandra Vallery, Ph.D, discounting the
opinion primarily because it did not contain details about
the severity of the limitations it described.
gave little weight to the February 2018 opinion of
Ortega's treating physician, Patricia Pangan, M.D. Dr.
Pangan opined that Ortega's symptoms would frequently
interfere with the concentration and attention required to
perform simple work tasks. Dr. Pangan further opined that
Ortega was incapable of performing “low stress”
jobs because of “untreated depression, ” that
Ortega was unable to stand or walk for long durations or
intervals; and that Ortega was only able to occasionally
perform lifting and carrying and rarely able to perform
postural changes. The ALJ concluded that Dr. Pangan assigned
limitations based on mental health issues, but that she was
not a mental health specialist and her treatment records and
notes were inconsistent with the mental health issues
indicated in the opinion.
also considered Ortega's own statements and testimony.
The ALJ found that, although Ortega's impairments could
reasonably be expected to produce the symptoms described at
the hearing, Ortega's statements about the intensity,
persistence, and limiting effects of those symptoms were
“not entirely consistent with the medical evidence and
other evidence in the record . . . .” Admin. Rec. at
22. Accordingly, the ALJ accepted Ortega's statements
“only to the extent they can reasonably be accepted as
consistent with the objective medical and other
Ortega's RFC, the ALJ found at step five that Ortega
could perform her past work as a laboratory glass washer. The
ALJ therefore concluded that Ortega was not disabled.
August 8, 2018, the Appeals Council denied Ortega's
request for review, making the ALJ's decision the Acting