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Ramsey v. Saul

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

August 9, 2019

Tina Marie Ramsey, Claimant
v.
Andrew Saul, [1] Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant

          ORDER

          Steven J. McAuliffe United States District Judge.

         Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), claimant, Tina Marie Ramsey, moves to reverse or vacate the Commissioner's decision denying her applications for Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act and Supplemental Security Income Benefits under Title XVI. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 423, 1381-1383c (collectively, the “Act”). The Commissioner objects and moves for an order affirming his decision.

         For the reasons discussed, claimant's motion is denied, and the Commissioner's motion is granted.

         Factual Background

         I. Procedural History.

         In September of 2015, claimant filed applications for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”), alleging that she was disabled and had been unable to work since January 3, 2015. Claimant was 37 years old at the time and had acquired sufficient quarters of coverage to remain insured through December of 2019. Claimant's applications were denied and she requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”).

         In May of 2017, claimant, her attorney, [2] and an impartial vocational expert appeared before an ALJ, who considered claimant's applications de novo. After obtaining additional, post-hearing evidence, the ALJ issued her written decision, concluding that claimant was not disabled, as that term is defined in the Act, at any time prior to the date of her decision. Claimant then requested review by the Appeals Council. That request was denied. Accordingly, the ALJ's denial of claimant's applications for benefits became the final decision of the Commissioner, subject to judicial review.

         Subsequently, claimant filed a timely action in this court, asserting that the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence. Claimant then filed a “Motion for Order Reversing Decision of the Commissioner” (document no. 7). In response, the Commissioner filed a “Motion for an Order to Affirm the Commissioner's Decision” (document no. 9). Those motions are pending.

         II. Factual Background.

         A detailed factual background can be found in claimant's statement of facts (document no. 7-2) and the Commissioner's statement of facts (document no. 8). Those facts relevant to the disposition of this matter are discussed as appropriate.

         Standard of Review

         I. “Substantial Evidence” and Deferential Review.

         Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the court is empowered “to enter, upon the pleadings and transcript of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing.” Factual findings and credibility determinations made by the Commissioner are conclusive if supported by substantial evidence. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). See also Irlanda Ortiz v. Secretary of Health & Human Services, 955 F.2d 765, 769 (1st Cir. 1991). Substantial evidence is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938). Importantly, then, it is something less than a preponderance of the evidence. So, the possibility of drawing two inconsistent conclusions from the evidence does not prevent an administrative agency's finding from being supported by substantial evidence. See Consolo v. Federal Maritime Comm'n, 383 U.S. 607, 620 (1966). See also Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971).

         II. The Parties' Respective Burdens.

         An individual seeking SSI and/or DIB benefits is disabled under the Act if he or she is unable “to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months.” 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). See also 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). The Act places a heavy initial burden on the claimant to establish the existence of a disabling impairment. See Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146-47 (1987); Santiago v. Secretary of Health & Human Services, 944 F.2d 1, 5 (1st Cir. 1991). To satisfy that burden, the claimant must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that her impairment prevents her from performing her former type of work. See Manso-Pizarro v. Secretary of Health & Human Services, 76 F.3d 15, 17 (1st Cir. 1996); Gray v. Heckler, 760 F.2d 369, 371 (1st Cir. 1985). If the claimant demonstrates an inability to perform her previous work, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that there are other jobs in the national economy that she can perform, in light of her age, education, and prior work experience. See Vazquez v. Secretary of Health & Human Services, 683 F.2d 1, 2 (1st Cir. 1982). See also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1512, 404.1560, 416.912, and 416.960.

         In assessing a disability claim, the Commissioner considers both objective and subjective factors, including: (1) objective medical facts; (2) the claimant's subjective claims of pain and disability, as supported by the claimant's testimony or that of other witnesses; and (3) the claimant's educational background, age, and work experience. See, e.g., Avery v. Secretary of Health & Human Services, 797 F.2d 19, 23 (1st Cir. 1986); Goodermote v. Secretary of Health & Human Services, 690 F.2d 5, 6 (1st Cir. 1982). Ultimately, a claimant is disabled only if her:

physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that [she] is not only unable to do [her] previous work but cannot, considering [her] age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy, regardless of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which [she] lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for [her], or whether [she] would be hired if [she] applied for work.

42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A). See also 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B).

         With those principles in mind, the court reviews claimant's motion to reverse and the ...


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