United States District Court, D. Maine
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION
JOHN C. NIVISON, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff Jeffrey Williams applied for disability insurance and supplemental security income benefits under Title II and 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.
As explained below, following a review of the record, and after consideration of the parties' written and oral arguments, the Court affirms the administrative decision.
THE ADMINISTRATIVE FINDINGS
The Commissioner's final decision is the September 19, 2013, decision of the Administrative Law Judge. (ALJ Decision, ECF No. 9-2.) The ALJ's decision tracks the five-step sequential evaluation process for analyzing social security disability claims, 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920. For purposes of Title II, Plaintiff's insured status ended March 31, 2013.
At step 1 of the sequential evaluation process, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has not engaged in substantial gainful activity beginning December 17, 2011, the alleged onset date. At step 2, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has the following severe impairments: alcohol related pancreatitis; recurrent umbilical hernia; arthritis; degenerative disk disease of the lumbar spine; affective disorder/depression; substance addiction disorder/alcohol abuse (status undetermined). At step 3, the ALJ determined that the combination of impairments would 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 has the residual functional capacity to perform sedentary work; stand/walk for 2-hours and sit for 6 hours in an 8-hour workday; occasionally climb ramps and stairs, but never ladders, ropes or scaffolds; occasionally balance, stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl; understand and remember simple instructions and execute simple tasks on a consistent schedule; interact with coworkers and supervisors; and adapt to occasional changes in routine.
At step 4, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's degree of limitation precluded past relevant work. Using section 201.28 of the Medical-Vocational Guidelines, 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2 as a framework for decision-making at step 5, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff could engage in other substantial gainful employment based on vocational expert testimony that Plaintiff's RFC would not result in a significant erosion of the unskilled sedentary occupational base. With his step 5 finding, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has not been under a disability from December 17, 2011, through the date of decision.
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in his RFC finding. Specifically, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ failed to consider evidence related to the severity of Plaintiff's osteoarthritis and degenerative disk disease. (Statement of Errors at 3.) Plaintiff also contends that the ALJ's decision to discount the opinions of Dr. Barker and Dr. Praba-Egge, both treating physicians, is not supported by substantial evidence. ( Id. at 4.) According to Plaintiff, the opinions of Dr. Barker and Dr. Praba-Egge, and the longitudinal medical treatment records, establish a greater degree of limitation than the ALJ found. ( Id. at 6.)
A. Standard of Review
The Court must affirm the administrative decision provided that the decision is based on the correct legal standards and is supported by substantial evidence, even if the record could support 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).
Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ erred as to Plaintiff's physical RFC. Plaintiff has the burden to prove the degree to which his impairments restrict his capacity to engage in substantial gainful activity. Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 & n.5 (1987); Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 336 (1976). In addition to his testimony and medical records, Plaintiff offered opinion ...