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Webster v. Colvin

United States District Court, District of Maine

March 16, 2015

TRAVIS LEE WEBSTER, Plaintiff
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION [1]

John C. Nivison, U.S. Magistrate Judge.

In this action, Plaintiff Travis Lee Webster seeks disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. Defendant Social Security Administration Acting Commissioner found that Plaintiff had severe impairments, but retained the functional capacity to perform substantial gainful activity through December 31, 2010, his date last insured. 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 October 25, 2012, decision of the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).[2] The ALJ’s decision (ECF No. 11-2) tracks the familiar five-step sequential evaluation process for analyzing social security disability claims, 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520.

The ALJ found that Plaintiff has severe, but non-listing-level impairments consisting of obesity and back and left leg pain secondary to lumbar degenerative disc disease, status post-microdiscectomy in March 2008. The ALJ assessed Plaintiff’s residual functional capacity (RFC) and determined that Plaintiff retained the capacity for sedentary work as defined in 20 CFR § 404.1567(a), provided that he can sit for six hours and stand and walk for two hours in an eight-hour workday, and assuming normal breaks and the freedom to sit or stand at one-hour intervals throughout the day while remaining on task.[3]

The ALJ concluded that the RFC does not permit Plaintiff to return to his past relevant work as an electrician. With § 201.28 of the Medical-Vocational Guidelines (the “Grid”) as a framework for decision-making at step 5, and relying on the testimony of a vocational expert to determine the degree to which Plaintiff’s RFC eroded the sedentary work base, the ALJ found that Plaintiff could still engage in other substantial gainful employment. The ALJ specifically determined that Plaintiff could work as an order clerk, a ticket counter, and as a telephone quotation clerk. Concluding that the jobs existed in significant number in the national economy, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not under a disability in the relevant timeframe.

Discussion

Plaintiff argues (1) that the ALJ erred when he found that Plaintiff can sit for six hours in a workday; (2) that the testimony of the vocational expert did not constitute substantial evidence in support of the ALJ’s step 5 finding related to the number of jobs in the economy; and (3) that the RFC finding should have included a limitation that Plaintiff would be absent from work on two days every month.

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 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. Analysis

1. Plaintiff’s ability to sit

Plaintiff argues that the record lacks substantial evidence that he can sit for six hours in a workday. Plaintiff notes that the ALJ gave little weight to the opinions of the state agency physicians. (Statement of Errors at 3-7 & n.1, ECF No. 17.) Plaintiff essentially argues that ...


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