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Fields v. Saul

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

September 27, 2019

Donna L. Fields
v.
Andrew Saul, [1] Commissioner, Social Security Administration

          ORDER

          JOSEPH N. LAPLANTE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Donna Fields moves to reverse the decision of the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) to deny her application for Social Security disability insurance benefits, or DIB, under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 423. The Commissioner moves for an order affirming the decision. For the reasons that follow, the decision of the SSA, as announced by the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), is affirmed.

         I. Scope of Review

         The scope of judicial review of the SSA’s decision is as follows:

The [district] court shall have power 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. The findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive . . . .

42 U.S.C. § 405(g). However, the court “must uphold a denial of social security disability benefits unless ‘the [Commissioner] has committed a legal or factual error in evaluating a particular claim.’” Manso-Pizarro v. Sec’y of HHS, 76 F.3d 15, 16 (1st Cir. 1996) (per curiam) (quoting Sullivan v. Hudson, 490 U.S. 877, 885 (1989)).

         As for the standard of review that applies when an applicant claims that an SSA adjudicator made a factual error,

[s]ubstantial-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. Bath Iron Works Corp. v. U.S. Dep’t of Labor, 336 F.3d 51, 56 (1st Cir. 2003) (internal quotation marks omitted). Rather, “[a court] must uphold the [Commissioner’s] findings . . . if a reasonable mind, reviewing the evidence in the record as a whole, could accept it as adequate to support [his] conclusion.” Rodriguez v. Sec’y of Health & Human Servs., 647 F.2d 218, 222 (1st Cir. 1981) (per curiam).

Purdy v. Berryhill, 887 F.3d 7, 13 (1st Cir. 2018).

         In addition, “‘the drawing of permissible inference from evidentiary facts [is] the prime responsibility of the [Commissioner], ’ and ‘the resolution of conflicts in the evidence and the determination of the ultimate question of disability is for [him], not for the doctors or for the courts.’” Id. (quoting Rodriguez, 647 F.2d at 222). Thus, the court “must uphold the [Commissioner’s] conclusion, even if the record arguably could justify a different conclusion, so long as it is supported by substantial evidence.” Tsarelka v. Sec’y of HHS, 842 F.2d 529, 535 (1st Cir. 1988) (per curiam).

         II. Background

         Fields was born in 1960. The date on which she was last insured for DIB, i.e., her DLI, is September 30, 2010.

         In November of 2006, Fields had an x-ray of her cervical spine. In his report on the results, Dr. Robert Stevens wrote:

Mild degenerative change is present at the C5-6 level with mild osteophytic spurring at ¶ 5-6 and C6-7.
There is, however, no abnormal subluxation or erosion.

         Administrative Transcript (hereinafter “Tr.”) 563.[2] Dr. Stevens made no diagnosis, and Fields identifies no medical record that reports a diagnosis based upon Dr. Stevens’ 2006 x-ray report.[3]

         In October of 2014, Fields applied for DIB. She claimed that she had been disabled since September 30, 2005, as a result of anxiety, inability to focus, vision issues, feeling lost and hopeless, depression, four herniated discs, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, osteoporosis, osteopenia, [4] ulcers, asthma, and alcoholism in remission.

         On initial review, a state-agency consulting physician, Dr. Archibald Green, found that for the physical impairments that Fields claimed, there was insufficient medical evidence from the period prior to her DLI to evaluate her claim. Based in part on Dr. Green’s finding, the SSA denied Fields’ claim.

         On reconsideration, another state-agency consulting physician, Dr. ...


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