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OBannon v. Colvin

United States District Court, District of Maine

March 30, 2014

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant




John H. Rich III United States Magistrate Judge

In this Social Security Disability (“SSD”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) appeal, the plaintiff contends that the administrative law judge failed to provide adequate reasons for the weight she assigned to the opinion of Dr. Gaddis, a treating physician; failed to provide adequate reasons for basing her finding concerning the plaintiff’s residual functional capacity (“RFC”) primarily on the opinions of state-agency nonexamining physicians; and failed to recognize and resolve a conflict between the testimony of the vocational expert and the Dictionary of Occupational Titles. I recommend that the commissioner’s decision be affirmed.

In accordance with the commissioner’s sequential evaluation process, 20 C.F.R. §§ 405.1520, 416.920; Goodermote v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 690 F.2d 5, 6 (1st Cir. 1982), the administrative law judge found, in relevant part, that the plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act (for purposes of SSD) only through December 31, 2011, Finding 1, Record at 16; that he had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since November 11, 2009, the alleged date of onset of disability, Finding 2, id.; that he suffered from degenerative joint disease of the knees, status post-surgical repair, arthritis of the wrists and hands status post-right carpometacarpal joint fusion, and a cardiac condition, impairments that were severe but which, considered separately or in combination, did not meet or medically equal the criteria of any impairment listed in Appendix 1 to 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P (the “Listings”), Findings 3-4, id. at 17-18; that he had the RFC to perform work at the light exertional level, except that he could only walk and stand for a combined total of four hours in an eight-hour workday, could never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, could only occasionally climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, and crouch, should not engage in work involving constant hand controls, handling, or grasping with either hand, and should not work at jobs involving complicated or detailed tasks, Finding 5, id. at 19; that he was unable to perform any past relevant work, Finding 6, id. at 24-25; that, given his age (36 on the alleged date of onset), limited education, work experience, and RFC, there were jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy that the plaintiff could perform, Findings 7-10, id. at 25; and that, therefore, the plaintiff had not been under a disability, as that term is defined in the Social Security Act, at any time from the date of alleged onset through the date of the opinion, April 18, 2012, Finding 11, id. at 26. The Appeals Council declined to review the decision, id. at 1-3, making it the final determination of the commissioner. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 416.1481; Dupuis v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 869 F.2d 633, 623 (1st Cir. 1989).

The standard of review of the commissioner’s decision is whether the determination made is supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3); Manso-Pizarro v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 76 F.3d 15, 16 (1st Cir. 1996). In other words, the determination must be supported by such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support the conclusion drawn. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Rodriguez v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 647 F.2d 218, 222 (1st Cir. 1981).

The administrative law judge reached Step 5 of the sequential evaluation process, at which stage the burden of proof shifts to the commissioner to show that a claimant can perform work other than his past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g), 416.920(g); Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987); Goodermote, 690 F.2d at 7. The record must contain substantial evidence in support of the commissioner’s findings regarding the plaintiff’s RFC to perform such other work. Rosado v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 807 F.2d 292, 294 (1st Cir. 1986).

I. Discussion

A. Treating Physician Opinion

The plaintiff asserts that the administrative law judge “rejected Dr. Gaddis’ treating source opinion for inadequate reasons” because the reasons stated in her opinion ‘do[] not bear scrutiny.” Plaintiff’s Itemized Statement of Errors (“Itemized Statement”) (ECF No. 11) at 5.The administrative law judge wrote the following about Dr. Gaddis:

The undersigned has also considered the opinion of John Gaddis, D.O., the claimant’s primary care physician. (13F) Dr. Gaddis stated in June 2011 that the claimant could lift and carry 25 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently; could stand or walk less than 2 hours total in an 8hour workday; must periodically alternate between sitting and standing to relieve pain or discomfort; should never climb, kneel, crouch, or crawl; could occasionally balance and stoop; could frequently reach, handle, and feel, and only occasionally finger, with the left upper extremity; could use the right upper extremity only occasionally and never frequently; and has some reduction in the ability to concentrate due to pain. (13F). The undersigned has given Dr. Gaddis’s opinion little weight, as it is quite inconsistent with the claimant’s work history in 2010 and 2011, which admittedly required frequent use of his hands and wrists to such an extent that he was unable to wear a stiff brace while working. (17F/4, 5). In additional, Dr. Gaddis assessed significant limitations regarding use of the claimant’s left hand, yet there are no complaints of left wrist or hand pain since April 2010. (14F-18F). Moreover, Dr. Gaddis’s opinion appears to be based heavily on the claimant’s subjective complaints of pain, as the record does not contain any thorough evaluations of the claimant’s knee performed by Dr. Gaddis. (14F).

Record at 24.

The plaintiff first challenges this paragraph as “not internally consistent” because the administrative law judge cited the plaintiff’s work history in 2010 and 2011 “as evidence against Dr. Gaddis’ opinion[, ]” even though “[i]t was work that he could not sustain.” Itemized Statement at 5 (emphasis omitted). As evidence that the plaintiff “could not sustain” this work, the plaintiff cites the administrative law judge’s finding that “he had no work at SGA since the alleged onset date in 2009.” Id.

The two noted findings are not in fact inconsistent, and the administrative law judge was at pains to make this clear. The finding of a lack of substantial gainful activity (“SGA”) is based on “the evidence of record” and a specific reference to one week of work in summer 2011 about which the plaintiff testified. Record at 16-17. The finding about the plaintiff’s actual work in 2010 and ...

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