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Farnham v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Maine

April 21, 2015

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


JOHN H. RICH, III, Magistrate Judge.

In this Child's Disability Benefits case, [2] the plaintiff contends that the administrative law judge's findings are not supported by substantial evidence and that the administrative law judge gave inappropriate weight to certain opinion evidence. I affirm the commissioner's decision.

In accordance with the commissioner's sequential evaluation process, 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520, Goodermote v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 690 F.2d 5, 6 (1st Cir. 1982), the administrative law judge found, in relevant part, that, prior to attaining age 22, the plaintiff suffered from mood disorder, personality disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder, impairments that were severe, but which, considered separately or in combination, did not meet or medically equal the criteria of any impairment listed in Appendix 1 to 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P (the "Listings"), Findings 3-4, Record at 40-42; that, prior to attaining age 22, the plaintiff had the residual functional capacity ("RFC") to perform work at all exertional levels, and could understand, remember, and carry out simple instructions, make simple work-related decisions, respond appropriately to coworkers, supervisors, and work situations not involving the public, and adapt to changes in an ordinary work setting, Finding 5, id. at 43; that, prior to attaining age 22, the plaintiff was unable to return to any past relevant work, Finding 6, id. at 49; that, given her age (21 on the alleged date of onset of disability), at least high school education, work experience, and RFC, and using the Medical-Vocational Rules in Appendix 2 to 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P (the "Grid") as a framework for decision-making, there were jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy that the plaintiff could perform, Findings 7-10, id.; and that, therefore, the plaintiff had not been under a disability, as that term is defined in the Social Security Act, at any time prior to her twenty-second birthday, Finding 11, id. at 50. The Appeals Council declined to review the decision, id. at 1-3, making it the final determination of the commissioner, 20 C.F.R. § 404.981; Dupuis v. Secretary of Health Human Servs., 869 F.2d 622, 623 (1st Cir. 1989).

The standard of review of the commissioner's decision is whether the determination made is supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Manso-Pizarro v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 76 F.3d 15, 16 (1st Cir. 1996). In other words, the determination must be supported by such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support the conclusion drawn. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971); Rodriguez v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 647 F.2d 218, 222 (1st Cir. 1981).

The administrative law judge reached Step 5 of the sequential evaluation process, at which stage the burden of proof shifts to the commissioner to show that a claimant can perform work other than her past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(g); Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987); Goodermote, 690 F.2d at 7. The record must contain substantial evidence in support of the commissioner's findings regarding the plaintiff's RFC to perform such other work. Rosado v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 807 F.2d 292, 294 (1st Cir. 1986).

I. Discussion

A. Substantial Evidence

The plaintiff complains that the evidence cited by the administrative law judge in support of his conclusions that the plaintiff had only moderate restrictions in activities of daily living, social functioning, and concentration, persistence, or pace, does not meet the requirement that such evidence be substantial. Plaintiff's Statement of Errors ("Itemized Statement") (ECF No. 14) at 7-11. She discusses each exhibit cited by the administrative law judge.[3]

First, and most important, the plaintiff does not suggest how a different finding on each of these Step 3 criteria would necessarily lead to a different result on her application. In order to succeed at Step 3, where the criteria at issue are involved in the sequential evaluation process as Part B of each relevant Listing, [4] the plaintiff must establish that the Part A criteria are met as well. Listings 12.04, 12.06, 12.08. The administrative law judge made no findings as to the Part A criteria of each Listing. The plaintiff does not suggest that she intends her discussion of these Part B criteria to apply to any other section of the administrative law judge's decision.

Nonetheless, I will address each of the plaintiff's complaints about the administrative law judge's treatment of specific exhibits.

Exhibit 4E is an adult function report reporting information provided by the plaintiff. Record at 446-53. The plaintiff complains that the administrative law judge "ignore[d]" some of the information that she provided. Itemized Statement at 8. The administrative law judge is not required to address every factual statement made by a claimant, particularly where, as here, he has found the plaintiff's "statements concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of [her reported] symptoms are not entirely credible for the reasons explained in this decision." Record at 44. The plaintiff does not challenge this credibility finding. The plaintiff proffers no reason or argument to support her implied contention that the administrative law judge was required to adopt all of her subjective reports about the effects of her symptoms.

Exhibit 7E is another adult function report from the plaintiff. Id. at 468-76. The plaintiff merely quotes four statements from this form, without any arguments or explanation. Exhibit 11E is an adult function report filled out by a friend of the plaintiff. Again, the plaintiff merely quotes selected statements from this form without any argument or explanation as to what value they have for her appeal. The administrative law judge gave "little weight to these statements as they are from a non-medical source, and the degree of limitations implied [is] not substantiated in the evidence." Id. at 48. The plaintiff has not challenged this assessment.

Exhibit 5F is a form giving instructions to the plaintiff when she was released from an emergency room or walk-in visit to a hospital in North Conway, New Hampshire. Id. at 712. Her assertion that "[t]here is no statement in this Exhibit that supports any of the ALJ's conclusions regarding the Plaintiff's activities[, ]" Itemized Statement at 9, is erroneous. The administrative law judge cited this exhibit to support the statement that "[d]espite her alleged difficulty getting along with others, the evidence shows that the claimant was able to maintain a long-term relationship with her boyfriend for several years[.]" Record at 42. Exhibit 5F reports that the plaintiff's boyfriend was with her at the hospital on May 25, 2008. Id. at 713, 716. Exhibit 27F, of which the plaintiff says "Dr. Shems' opinions contradict the ALJ's conclusions[, ]" Itemized Statement at 10, is also cited only for the same purpose as Exhibit 5F, Record at 42, and reports that the plaintiff "now had a relationship that lasted about three years" as of October 27, 2011. Id. at 1488, 1489.

Exhibit 18F is an emergency department record from St. Mary's Regional Medical Center, dated July 23, 2010, id. at 821, that is cited by the administrative law judge as evidence of the plaintiff's relationship with her boyfriend ("husband" in this record, id. at 822), id. at 42, and that "multiple examiners have found her memory to be intact, and her attention span and concentration to be either intact or normal[, ]" id. at 43. The exhibit does provide that evidence. Id. at 822, 823. The plaintiff's assertion that "no support for the ALJ's conclusions exists in this Exhibit[, ]" Itemized Statement at 9, is incorrect. The same is true of Exhibits 33F and 34F, of each of which the plaintiff erroneously asserts that "this Exhibit has no relevance to the ALJ's conclusions." Id. at 11. The support for the propositions for which the administrative law judge cited these two exhibits is found at pages 1542, 1547, 1553-54 of the administrative record. The cited pages of these exhibits are in fact relevant to the conclusions for ...

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