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Healey v. Social Security Administration Commissioner

United States District Court, District of Maine

April 14, 2014

BRENDAN A. HEALEY, Plaintiff
v.
SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION COMMISSIONER, Defendant

Plaintiff BRENDAN A HEALEY, DAVID A. CHASE MACDONALD, CHASE & DUFOUR

Defendant SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION COMMISSIONER, MOLLY E. CARTER SOCIAL SECURITY JOHN F. KENNEDY FEDERAL

REPORT AND RECOMMENDED DECISION

John C. Nivison U.S. Magistrate Judge

After a hearing on Plaintiff Brendan Healey’s application for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, Defendant, the Social Security Administration Acting Commissioner, found that Plaintiff does not suffer from any severe impairments. 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 reverse the administrative decision and remand Plaintiff’s Title II claim for further proceedings.

The Administrative Findings

Because the Appeals Council “found no reason” to review that decision, the Acting Commissioner’s final decision is the February 15, 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 found that Plaintiff meets the insured status requirements of Title II through December 31, 2013, and has not engaged in substantial gainful activity from April 30, 2009, the date of alleged onset of disability. (ALJ’s Decision, Findings and Conclusions, ¶¶ 1, 2.) In the second stage of the analysis, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the following medically determinable impairments: depressive disorder not otherwise specified (NOS), cognitive disorder NOS, undifferentiated somatoform disorder NOS, and attention deficit disorder. (Id. ¶ 3.) The ALJ found, however, that Plaintiff’s impairments have not significantly limited his ability to perform basic work-related activities for 12 consecutive months, and, therefore, Plaintiff does not have a severe impairment or combination of impairments. (Id. ¶ 4.) Finding no severe impairments at step 2, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff failed to establish disability between the alleged onset date and the date of decision. (Id. ¶¶ 4, 5.)

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, but they are not conclusive when derived by ignoring evidence, misapplying the law, or judging matters entrusted to experts.” Nguyen v. Chater, 172 F.3d 31, 35 (1st Cir. 1999).

B. Background

Plaintiff’s alleged disability arises from a fall that occurred in February 2009. The incident occurred when Plaintiff, while eating, began to choke on the food, passed out, and struck his head on a granite table as he fell to the ground. Plaintiff’s primary care provider, Vincent Michaud MD, diagnosed a closed head injury with concussive syndrome and ordered a neurological referral. (Admin. R. Ex. 4F, PageID #320.) Plaintiff’s subjective report of symptoms included confusion, the inability to perform work as an investment consultant, and difficulty balancing his checkbook. (Id.)

In August 2009, consulting physician Brian Stahl Ph.D., after reviewing records prepared through a May 26, 2009, evaluation by Dr. Michaud, found that Plaintiff suffered from an affective disorder (depressive disorder, NOS) that was properly categorized as “non severe” for social security purposes. (Ex. 6F.) Dr. Stahl noted that Plaintiff’s evaluations did not show evidence of memory, concentration, or attention difficulties, and showed intact speech and language with normal mood and affect. (PageID # 457.) In a subsequent evaluation, Dr. Michaud determined that Plaintiff suffered from post-concussive syndrome and that there “may be a component of ...


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