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Spencer v. Social Security Administration Commissioner

United States District Court, District of Maine

August 14, 2014

WINFIELD V. SPENCER, Plaintiff
v.
SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION COMMISSIONER, Defendant

Plaintiff WINFIELD V SPENCER represented by DAVID A. CHASE MACDONALD, CHASE & DUFOUR

Defendant SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION COMMISSIONER represented by JASON W. VALENCIA SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION OFFICE OF GENERAL COUNSEL JOHN F. KENNEDY FEDERAL MOLLY E. CARTER SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION OFFICE OF GENERAL COUNSEL JOHN F. KENNEDY FEDERAL SUSAN D. BELLER SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION OFFICE OF GENERAL COUNSEL

REPORT AND RECOMMENDED DECISION

John C. Nivison U.S. Magistrate Judge

After a hearing on Plaintiff Winfield Spencer’s application for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, Defendant, the Social Security Administration Acting Commissioner, found that Plaintiff Winfield Spencer has severe impairments, but retains the functional capacity to perform substantial gainful activity. Defendant, therefore, denied Plaintiff’s request for disability benefits.

Following a review of the record, and after 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 2, 2012, decision of the Administrative Law Judge. 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.

At step 1 of the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found that Plaintiff meets the insured status requirements of Title II through December 31, 2012, and has not engaged in substantial gainful activity from September 1, 2009, the date of alleged onset of disability. (ALJ Decision, Findings and Conclusions ¶¶ 1, 2, ECF No. 9-3, PageID # 81.)

In the second stage of the analysis, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has two severe impairments, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and obesity. The ALJ also found that certain other impairments, including Plaintiff’s hearing and psychological symptoms related to post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, were not severe. (Id. ¶ 3.)

At step 3, the ALJ found that Plaintiff’s severe impairments would not meet or equal any listing in Appendix 1 to 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P. (Id. ¶ 4.) This listing evaluation is not disputed. As part of his step 3 evaluation, the ALJ applied the psychiatric review technique and concluded that Plaintiff’s mental limitations impose only mild limitations or difficulties in relation to activities of daily living, social functioning, and concentration, persistence, and pace. (Id. ¶ 3.) Plaintiff disputes this finding.

Prior to further evaluation at steps 4 and 5, the ALJ assessed Plaintiff’s residual functional capacity. The ALJ found that with his combined impairments, Plaintiff maintained a capacity to perform light work, with “occasional” limitations on ramps, stairs, balancing, crawling, stooping, kneeling, and crouching. The ALJ also concluded that Plaintiff must avoid extreme cold, humidity, and pulmonary irritants. (Id. ¶ 5.) Based on this residual functional capacity finding, a vocational expert testified that Plaintiff would be able to perform his past relevant work as a security guard/security supervisor. (Id. ¶ 6.) Relying at least in part on this testimony, at step 4, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled. (Id. ¶¶ 6, 7.)

Plaintiff’s Statement of Errors

For social security purposes, Plaintiff is classified as being of advanced age. He also has a high school education and can communicate in English. Under the Guidelines, if Plaintiff is no longer capable of performing his past relevant work, Plaintiff “grids out” as disabled unless his past relevant work or education is found to provide him with transferable skills and a transition to other work would require “very little, if any, vocational adjustment” in relation to “tools, work processes, work settings, or the industry.” See Medical-Vocational Guidelines §§ 201.00(f), 202.04-202.08.

Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred at step 2 of the sequential evaluation process when the ALJ determined that Plaintiff’s hearing loss and mental health impairment do not impose severe limitations. (Statement of Errors at 1-16.) Plaintiff also argues that the ALJ’s residual functional capacity finding is erroneous because the ALJ failed to include a restriction related to cold/damp environments, which restriction would be significant given that Plaintiff’s past relevant work includes exposure to the elements. (Id. at 17-18.) Finally, Plaintiff contends ...


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