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Knapton v. Social Security Administration Commissioner

United States District Court, District of Maine

April 4, 2014

RALPH A KNAPTON, Plaintiff
v.
SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION COMMISSIONER, Defendant

Plaintiff RALPH A KNAPTON represented by DAVID A. CHASE MACDONALD, CHASE & DUFOUR LEAD ATTORNEY ATTORNEY TO BE NOTICED

Defendant SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION COMMISSIONER represented by MOLLY E. CARTER SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION OFFICE OF GENERAL COUNSEL JOHN F. KENNEDY FEDERAL ATTORNEY TO BE NOTICED

REPORT AND RECOMMENDED DECISION

John C. Nivison, U.S. Magistrate Judge

After consideration of Plaintiff Ralph Knapton’s applications for disability insurance benefits under Title II and supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, Defendant, the Social Security Administration Acting Commissioner, found that Plaintiff has severe impairments but retains the functional capacity to perform substantial gainful activity. Defendant, therefore, denied Plaintiff’s applications 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 affirm the administrative decision.

The Administrative Findings

Because the Appeals Council “found no reason” to review the decision, the Acting Commissioner’s final decision is the March 16, 2012, decision of the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). The ALJ’s decision tracks the familiar five-step sequential evaluation process for analyzing social security disability claims. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920.

At step 1 of the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff satisfied the insured status requirements of Title II through December 31, 2011, and had not engaged in substantial gainful activity from August 1, 2006, the alleged date of the onset of disability. (ALJ Decision, Findings and Conclusions, ¶¶ 1, 2.) In the second stage of the analysis, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the following severe physical/mental impairments: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, sleep apnea, type II diabetes, obesity, and anti-social personality disorder. (Id. ¶ 3.) At step 3 of the process, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff’s combination of impairments would not meet or equal any listing in Appendix 1 to 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P. Using the psychiatric review technique, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff suffers mild restriction in activities of daily living, moderate difficulties in social functioning, and moderate difficulties maintaining concentration, persistence, and pace. The ALJ also observed that Plaintiff had no episodes of decompensation. (Id. ¶ 4.)

Prior to further evaluation at steps 4 and 5, the ALJ assessed Plaintiff’s residual functional capacity. The ALJ found that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity to perform light work subject to a restriction on walking no more than 15 minutes at a time, and 15 minutes per hour. Additionally, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff can only occasionally climb ramps or stairs, balance, crawl, stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl, and that Plaintiff must avoid extreme temperatures, pulmonary irritants, and workplace hazards such as uneven work surfaces. Finally, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff’s work must be limited to simple, routine, unskilled work, with no interaction with the public and only superficial interaction with coworkers and supervisors. (Id. ¶ 5 & n.2.) The ALJ, therefore, found that the assessed degree of limitation precludes Plaintiff from performing any past relevant work, namely, skilled work as a retail manager. (Id. ¶ 6.)

The record and the ALJ findings also establish that Plaintiff was born in 1959, making him an individual closely approaching advanced age as of the date of alleged onset; that Plaintiff has a high school education; and that Plaintiff can communicate in English. (Id. ¶¶ 7, 8.) The ALJ found that the existence of transferable skills was not material to evaluation of Plaintiff’s claim under the Medical-Vocational Guidelines. (Id. ¶ 9.) Upon review of Plaintiff’s vocational profile and the residual functional capacity findings as determined by the ALJ, a vocational expert concluded that Plaintiff could still engage in other substantial gainful employment, including as a mail clerk or courier, and in “various light assembly productions jobs, ” such as assembler of medical supplies. (Id. ¶ 10.) Accepting this testimony, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff is not disabled under the Social Security Act. (Id. ¶¶ 10, 11.)

Discussion of Plaintiff’s Statement of Errors

A. Standard of Review

The Court must affirm the administrative decision so long as it applies the correct legal standards and is supported by substantial evidence. This is so 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 evidence, ...


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