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Estey v. Social Security Administration Commissioner

United States District Court, District of Maine

August 15, 2014

GARY M. ESTEY, Plaintiff




John C. Nivison U.S. Magistrate Judge

On Plaintiff’s application for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, Defendant, the Social Security Administration Acting Commissioner, found that although Plaintiff Gary Estey has certain severe impairments, he 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 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 Administrative Law Judge’s (ALJ) decision, Defendant’s final decision is the ALJ’s February 15, 2012, decision. 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.

In step 1 of the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found that Plaintiff meets the insured status requirements of Title II through December 31, 2011, and has not engaged in substantial gainful activity during the period from his September 1, 2007, alleged onset date through the date on which he was insured. (ALJ Decision ¶¶ 1-2.) At step 2, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff’s only severe impairment is “anxiety disorder (post-traumatic stress disorder).” (Id. ¶ 3.) The ALJ also found that Plaintiff’s chronic eczema impairment is not severe. (Id.) Finally, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff’s asserted impairments of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and Graves’ disease (hyperthyroidism) do not qualify as severe impairments. (Id.)

At step 3, the ALJ found that the combination of impairments would not meet or equal any listing in Appendix 1 to 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P; that Plaintiff had only mild limitation in the activities of daily living, mild difficulties maintaining social functioning, and moderate difficulties maintaining concentration, persistence, and pace; and that Plaintiff had not experienced episodes of decompensation of extended duration.[1] (Id. ¶ 4.)

Prior to further evaluation at steps 4 and 5, the ALJ assessed Plaintiff’s residual functional capacity. The ALJ determined that Plaintiff can work at all levels of physical exertion, but suffers non-exertional limitations that limit him to brief interaction with the general public and only occasional changes in workplace routine. (Id. ¶ 5.) At step 4, the ALJ concluded that this degree of limitation precluded past relevant work. (Id. ¶ 6.)

In conducting the step 5 analysis, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was born in 1964 and was thus a comparatively younger individual, and that Plaintiff has a high school education and can communicate in English. The ALJ also found that the presence of any transferrable skill was immaterial to the disability determination. (Id. ¶¶ 7-9.) Based on this vocational profile, and the residual functional capacity findings, the ALJ, using Medical-Vocational Guideline Rule 204.00 as a framework for decision making and citing Garcia-Martinez v. Barnhart, 2007 WL 2240136 (1st Cir. Oct. 1, 2004), found that Plaintiff was not disabled. (Id. ¶ 10.)

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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