United States District Court, D. Maine
REPORT AND RECOMMENDED DECISION
JOHN C. NIVISON, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff Byron Shedd applied for supplemental security income benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. Defendant, the Social Security Administration Acting Commissioner, found that Plaintiff has severe impairments, but that he retains the functional capacity to perform substantial gainful activity. Defendant, therefore, denied Plaintiff's request for disability benefits.
The matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's request for judicial review of the administrative determination. 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
The Commissioner's final decision is the January 17, 2013, decision of the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). In the decision, the ALJ tracks the familiar five-step sequential evaluation process for analyzing social security disability claims, 20 C.F.R. § 416.920. (ECF No. 10-2, PageID # 40-59.)
At step 1 of the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 14, 2010, the date he filed his Title XVI application. (PageID # 45, ¶ 1.) At step 2, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, affective disorder, anxiety disorder, and substance abuse disorder. The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff's hypertension, though established in the record, is controlled by medication. ( Id., ¶ 2.) At step 3, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's mental impairments do not meet or equal any listing in the Commissioner's Listing of Impairments, Appendix 1 to 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P.
Prior to further evaluation at steps 4 and 5, the ALJ assessed Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (RFC). The ALJ determined that Plaintiff's combined impairments leave him with a RFC to perform a full range of work at all levels of exertion and that he can engage in sustained competitive work that requires that he (1) understand, remember, and carry out simple workrelated instructions; (2) use judgment in making simple decisions; (3) respond appropriately to coworkers, supervisors, and usual work situations; and (4) adapt to changes in the ordinary work setting. (PageID # 48, ¶ 4.)
Because Plaintiff has no past relevant work within the meaning of 20 C.F.R. § 416.965 to evaluate at step 4, the ALJ determined Plaintiff's claim at step 5. Using section 204.00 of the Medical-Vocational Guidelines (the "Grid") as a framework for decision-making, and citing Social Security Ruling 85-15, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's non-exertional limitations "have little or no effect on the occupational base of unskilled work at all exertional levels." The ALJ thus concluded that a finding of "not disabled" was appropriate.
Plaintiff argues that his depression and related mood swings, anxiety, and high blood pressure render him unable to work. He also alleges that he has bipolar disorder, and reports that he experiences racing thoughts, difficulty sleeping, and thoughts of suicide.
Plaintiff also challenges the following findings: (1) that he has only moderate limitations in activities of daily living; he contends that he has difficulty interpreting and completing paperwork, and understanding written instructions; (2) that he has only moderate limitations in concentration, persistence, and pace; he maintains that he suffers from "chronic depression and anxiety not directly related to substance abuse" and his mood interferes with concentration, which conditions make it difficult for him to interact with coworkers; and (3) that his blood pressure is not controlled by medication; he asserts that his blood pressure fluctuates with changes in his mood and he experiences light-headedness and weakness, especially in the heat. (Plaintiff's Statement of Errors, ECF No 16-1.)
A. Standard of Review
The Court must affirm the administrative decision so long as the decision applies the correct legal standards and is supported by substantial evidence, 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 ...