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Anglen v. Social Security Administration Commissioner

United States District Court, District of Maine

March 31, 2014

RUSSELL ALLEN ANGLEN, Plaintiff
v.
SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION COMMISSIONER, Defendant

Plaintiff RUSSELL ALLEN ANGLEN represented by DANIEL W. EMERY, ATTORNEY TO BE NOTICED

Defendant SOCIAL SECURITY represented by CHRISTOPHER L. POTTER, MOLLY E. CARTER, SUSAN D. BELLER, ATTORNEY TO BE NOTICED

REPORT AND RECOMMENDED DECISION

JOHN C. NIVISON, U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE

After considering Plaintiff Russell Allen Anglen’s application for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, Defendant, the Social Security Administration Acting Commissioner, determined that although Plaintiff has severe impairments, he retains the functional capacity to perform substantial gainful activity, both in past relevant work and in other occupations. Defendant, therefore, denied Plaintiff’s request for disability benefits.

Following a review of the record, and consideration of the parties’ written and oral arguments, as explained below, the recommendation is that the Court remand the case for further administrative proceedings.

The Administrative Findings

Because Defendant’s Appeals Council “found no reason” to review it, Defendant’s final decision is the December 13, 2012, decision of the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). The ALJ’s decision tracks the familiar five-step sequential evaluation process for analyzing Title II disability claims. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520.

At step 1 of the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff satisfied the insured status requirements of Title II through December 31, 2014, and further concluded that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity beginning October 15, 2009, the date of alleged onset of disability. (ALJ Decision ¶¶ 1-2.) At the second stage of the analysis, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has severe mental impairments consisting of polysubstance abuse in early remission and personality disorder not otherwise specified. (Id. ¶ 3.) The ALJ then found (at stage 3) that the combination of impairments would not meet or equal any listing in the Listing of Impairments, Appendix 1 to 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P. In addition, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff’s mental limitations impose only mild limitations in activities of daily living, moderate difficulties in social functioning, and moderate difficulties in concentration, persistence, and pace. The ALJ also found no episodes of decompensation of extended duration. (Id. ¶ 4.)

Prior to conducing the evaluation contemplated at steps 4 and 5, the ALJ assessed Plaintiff’s residual functional capacity. The ALJ found that Plaintiff’s combined impairments result in a residual functional capacity for a full range of work at all levels of exertion, subject to the following nonexertional limitation: that Plaintiff can understand, remember, carry out, and persist only with simple instructions and tasks. (Id. ¶ 5.) Based on this residual functional capacity assessment, the ALJ concluded at step 4 that Plaintiff is able to engage in past relevant work as a utility pole line worker, which requires very heavy levels of exertion. (Id. ¶ 6.) In addition, the ALJ determined that if a step 5 inquiry were required, other work would be available to Plaintiff within the parameters of Plaintiff’s residual functional capacity. (Id.)

At the administrative hearing, a vocational expert testified as to the employment opportunities available to a person with Plaintiff’s vocational profile and residual functional capacity. Based on the expert’s testimony, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff could engage in other substantial gainful employment, including as a store laborer, landscape laborer, and auto detailer. (Id.) The ALJ, therefore, determined that Plaintiff was not disabled from the date of alleged onset through the date of the administrative decision. (Id. ¶ 7.)

Plaintiff’s Statement of Errors

Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred by failing to acknowledge and discuss Plaintiff’s psychiatric hospitalization approximately two weeks before the administrative hearing, and by rejecting the treating source vocational assessments offered by Sharon Smith, Psy.D. (Statement of Errors at 2-3; Exhs. 19F & 27F.) Plaintiff also contends that the ALJ must have inappropriately interpreted raw medical data because none of the consulting expert opinions upon which the ALJ relied considered the more recent hospital admission, or certain findings of Dr. Smith. Dr. Smith’s findings were included in her May 24, 2012, neuropsychological assessment report (Exh. 19F), which report was issued approximately two weeks after the last disability services consulting expert offered an opinion on Plaintiff’s mental residual functioning capacity, and five months prior to the hearing before the administrative hearing. (Id. at 4-5.) Plaintiff asserts that the failure to consider Dr. Smith’s report is of particular significance because the vocational expert indicated that the marked limitations found by Dr. Smith would preclude all work activity. (Id. at 5.)

A. Standard of Review

The Court must affirm the administrative decision provided that the ALJ applied the correct legal standard, and provided that the decision is supported by substantial evidence. This standard of review applies even if the record contains evidence capable of supporting an alternative outcome. Manso-Pizarro v. Sec’y of HHS, 76 F.3d 15, 16 (1st Cir. 1996) (per curiam); Rodriguez Pagan v. Sec’y of HHS, 819 F.2d 1, 3 (1st Cir. 1987). Substantial evidence is evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a finding. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Rodriguez v. Sec’y of HHS, 647 F.2d 218, 222 (1st Cir. 1981). “The ALJ’s findings of fact are conclusive when supported by substantial ...


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