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Bowen v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Maine

September 28, 2015

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


John H. Rich III United States Magistrate Judge

This Child’s Disability Benefits (“CDB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) appeal raises the question of whether the administrative law judge supportably found the plaintiff capable of performing work existing in significant numbers in the national economy.[2] The plaintiff seeks remand on the bases that the administrative law judge erred in determining his mental residual functional capacity (“RFC”) and in relying on the so-called “Grid, ” the Medical-Vocational Rules in Appendix 2 to 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, to find him capable of performing work. See Plaintiff’s Statement of Errors (“Statement of Errors”) (ECF No. 14-1) at 2-7. At oral argument, the plaintiff’s counsel clarified that he did not argue that the administrative law judge erred in relying on the Grid with respect to the RFC actually found but, rather, that the administrative law judge should have assessed additional limitations that would have precluded sole reliance on the Grid. I find no reversible error in the administrative law judge’s RFC determination. Accordingly, I affirm the commissioner’s decision.

Pursuant to the commissioner’s sequential evaluation process, 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920; Goodermote v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 690 F.2d 5, 6 (1st Cir. 1982), the administrative law judge found, in relevant part, that the plaintiff had severe impairments of organic mental disorder/borderline intellectual functioning and personality disorder/intermittent explosive disorder, Finding 3, Record at 12; that he had the RFC to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels but with the following nonexertional limitations: due to psychological impairments, he could understand and remember simple instructions, could execute simple tasks on a consistent schedule to complete an eight-hour day/five-day week (or an equivalent work schedule), could interact with coworkers and supervisors, could work in public areas but could not interact with the general public, and could adapt to occasional changes in the routine workplace, Finding 5, id. at 14; that, considering his age (21 years old, defined as a younger individual, on his alleged disability onset date, January 1, 2011), education (at least high school), work experience (transferability of skills immaterial), and RFC, there were jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy that he could perform, Findings 7-10, id. at 16; and that he, therefore, had not been disabled from January 1, 2011, through the date of the decision, June 13, 2013, Finding 11, id. at 17. The Appeals Council declined to review the decision, id. at 1-3, making the decision the final determination of the commissioner, 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 416.1481; 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), 1383(c)(3); 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 his past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(g), 416.920(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

The administrative law judge stated that his mental RFC determination was supported by the opinions of agency nonexamining consultants Lewis F. Lester, Ph.D., David O. Hill, Ph.D., and David R. Houston, Ph.D., the opinions of agency examining consultants Gary Rasmussen, Ph.D., and Donald Devine, Ph.D., treatment notes from providers, including Kennebec Behavioral Health (“KBH”), function reports, and the longitudinal record. See Record at 16. He added:

The preponderance of objective evidence, including psychological evaluations and clinical reports, when considered in view of the [plaintiff’s] statements of daily activities[, ] do[es] not support the purported level of disability that he professes. While it is true that organic and personality-related mental health symptoms impose certain limitations, there is nothing in the record to undermine the conclusion that [he] retains the capacity for a range of simple work as set forth in the assigned RFC.


The plaintiff challenges the administrative law judge’s assessment that nothing in the record undermined the conclusion that he retained the capacity for simple work, arguing that the administrative law judge ignored or minimized the import of both contrary medical opinion evidence and other evidence of record that he contends corroborated his disabling work-related mental imitations. See Statement of Errors at 3-7.

With respect to medical opinion evidence, he points to:

1. The opinion of agency nonexamining consultant Brian Stahl, Ph.D., that he met the criteria of Listing 12.02, Appendix 1 to 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P (the “Listings”), in part on the strength of the April 2011 report of an employer, Nitram, that no one could work with him, one female employee reported feeling unsafe alone with him, he “had an extremely difficult time reading, writing or even understanding what was needed when it was read to him[, ]” he “was very rude to our office personnel[, ]” and “[h]is hygiene was also a major issue.” Id. at 3-4 (quoting Record at 476) (emphasis omitted);

2. Dr. Rasmussen’s statements that he could not be expected to independently manage any awarded funds in his own interest and that testing and a records review “suggest[ed] that his skills of every day living, including his capacity to manage money, [are] in the deficient range.” Id. at 3 (quoting Record at 658);

3. Dr. Rasmussen’s opinion that his language deficits negatively impacted his social judgment and might lead to difficulties with authority figures such as supervisors and negatively impact his capacity ...

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