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Garcia-Trujillo v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Maine

March 20, 2015

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


JOHN C. NIVISON, Magistrate Judge.

In this action, Plaintiff Kami Garcia-Trujillo requests judicial review of Defendant's denial of her applications for disability insurance benefits under Title II and supplemental security income benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. Defendant Social Security Administration Acting Commissioner found that Plaintiff has severe impairments, but 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 Commissioner's final decision is the February 22, 2013, decision of the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ).[2] The ALJ's decision (ECF No. 8-2) tracks the familiar five-step sequential evaluation process for analyzing social security disability claims, 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920.

The ALJ found that Plaintiff has severe impairments consisting of status post bunionectomy, chronic back pain, anxiety, depression, and substance addiction. As to Plaintiff's mental impairments, which inform Plaintiff's arguments for remand, the ALJ assessed moderate difficulties in social functioning, and noted that Plaintiff visits with a friend several times each week, shops twice each week, sometimes eats out, and likes to walk daily.

The ALJ determined that Plaintiff retains the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform a subset[3] of light work, provided that the work is "simple" and requires only "limited contact with supervisors, coworkers, and the general public." (PageID # 52-53, ¶ 5.) The ALJ concluded that the restrictions prevent Plaintiff from performing her past relevant work, including some unskilled jobs in the light-exertion category, but that the restrictions do not prevent her from engaging in other light and sedentary occupations such as production worker, material handler, packer, and mail clerk. The ALJ, therefore, found that Plaintiff was not disabled, and the ALJ denied Plaintiff's applications.


In her Statement of Errors, Plaintiff argues (1) that the ALJ erred because he did not provide sufficient reasons for his decision not to give controlling weight to the treating source opinion of Jamie Davis, Ph.D. and (2) that the ALJ's actual RFC finding does not match the RFC hypothetical on which the vocational expert based his opinion regarding the existence of jobs in the national economy. ( Id. at 8.)

A. Standard of Review

The Court must affirm the administrative decision provided that the ALJ applied the correct legal standards, and that the ALJ's decision 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. The ALJ's assignment of weight to the opinion of Dr. Davis

Jamie Davis, Ph.D., treated Plaintiff during multiple therapy sessions between February 2011 and August 2012 (Exhs. 6F, 14F). On June 13, 2012, Dr. Davis completed a Mental Capacity Assessment form (Exh. 7F), in which form she opined, inter alia, that Plaintiff had marked limitation in the ability to maintain attention and concentration, marked limitation in the ability to complete a workweek without interruptions from psychological symptoms, and moderate[4] limitation in her ability to interact with others in the workplace. The ALJ noted that Dr. Davis provided her assessment when Plaintiff was not participating in treatment. ...

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