United States District Court, D. Maine
ASHLEY N. PARKER, Plaintiff
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant
MEMORANDUM DECISION 
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. The
plaintiff seeks remand on the bases that the administrative
law judge failed to find that she had a severe impairment of
personality disorder and made a determination of her mental
residual functional capacity (“RFC”) that is
unsupported by substantial evidence. See Statement
of Specific Errors (“Statement of Errors”) (ECF
No. 13) at 1-10. I agree that the administrative law judge
erred in both respects and that the errors were not harmless.
Accordingly, I vacate the commissioner's decision and
remand this case for further proceedings consistent herewith.
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
anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
(“ADHD”), and learning disability, Finding 3,
Record at 15; that she had the RFC to perform simple work at
all exertional levels involving no public interactions,
Finding 5, id. at 17; that, considering her age (19
years old, defined as a younger individual, on her amended
alleged disability onset date, October 1, 2010), education
(limited), work experience (none), and RFC, there were jobs
existing in significant numbers in the national economy that
she could perform, Findings 7-10, id. at 21; and
that she, therefore, had not been disabled from her alleged
disability onset date through the date of the decision, May
16, 2014, Finding 11, id. at 22. 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).
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).
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), 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).
statement of errors also implicates Step 2 of the sequential
evaluation process. Although a claimant bears the burden of
proof at Step 2, it is a de minimis burden, designed
to do no more than screen out groundless claims. McDonald
v. Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 795 F.2d
1118, 1124 (1st Cir. 1986). When a claimant produces evidence
of an impairment, the commissioner may make a determination
of non-disability at Step 2 only when the medical evidence
“establishes only a slight abnormality or [a]
combination of slight abnormalities which would have no more
than a minimal effect on an individual's ability to work
even if the individual's age, education, or work
experience were specifically considered.” Id.
(quoting Social Security Ruling 85-28).
record contains four expert opinions bearing on the
plaintiff's mental RFC: a May 16, 2012, report of agency
examining consultant Edward Quinn, Ph.D., a June 1, 2012,
opinion of agency nonexamining consultant Brian Stahl, Ph.D.,
an August 23, 2012, opinion of agency nonexamining consultant
Brenda Sawyer, Ph.D., and a March 26, 2014, assessment by the
plaintiff's treating counselor Molly Eldredge, LCPC, the
rejection of which the plaintiff does not contest.
See Record at 20, 75-80, 98-100, 548-52, 666-67;
Statement of Errors at 1-10.
the benefit of a psychological evaluation conducted on May
16, 2012, Dr. Quinn diagnosed the plaintiff with cognitive
disorder NOS [not otherwise specified], R/O [rule out] panic
disorder without agoraphobia, learning disorder NOS by
history, borderline intellectual functioning, and borderline
personality disorder. See Record at 552. He gave her
a current GAF, or Global Assessment of Functioning, score of
55 to 65. See id. He stated:
She should be able to follow work rules. She may have some
difficulties interacting with others due to personality
factors. She should be able to use appropriate gross
judgment. She may have some difficulties with stressors at
times. She should be able to function independently.
Difficulties with attention, concentration, persistence,
pace, and memory were not observed during the clinical
interview. She should be able to complete simple job tasks.
As job tasks become increasingly more complex and detailed,
she is likely to have increased difficulties. She should be
able to maintain personal appearance. She may have some
issues with emotional stability. She may have some
difficulties in social settings.
Id. at 551.
the benefit of the Quinn report, first Dr. Stahl and then Dr.
Sawyer assessed the severity of the plaintiff's mental
impairments using forms that track the commissioner's
prescribed psychiatric review technique (“PRT”).
must follow that prescribed technique in assessing whether,
at Step 2, a claimant has medically determinable mental
impairment(s); if so, whether, at Steps 2 and 3, such
impairments are severe and meet or equal the criteria of any
impairment listed in Appendix 1 to Subpart P, 20 C.F.R.
§ 404 (the “Listings”); and, if one proceeds
to Steps 4 and 5, the degree to which such impairments impact
RFC. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520a, 416.920a.
2, the severity of a mental impairment is assessed on the
basis of a rating of the degree of limitation in four broad
functional areas: (i) activities of daily living, (ii) social
functioning, (iii) concentration, persistence, or pace, and
(iv) episodes of decompensation. See Id. If a mental
impairment is judged to be severe but not to meet or equal a
Listing, assessment of a claimant's mental RFC is
required; if it is judged nonsevere, no mental RFC assessment
need be made. See id.
Stahl indicated that he gave great weight to the Quinn
report. See Record at 77. He found that the
plaintiff had four medically determinable mental impairments,
two of which (personality disorders and organic mental
disorders) were severe, and two of which (anxiety disorders
and affective disorders) were nonsevere. See id. at
75-76. He indicated that those impairments collectively
caused moderate restriction of activities of daily living,
moderate difficulties in maintaining social functioning, and
moderate difficulties in maintaining concentration,
persistence, or pace, with no repeated episodes of
decompensation, each of extended duration. See id.
mental RFC section of the form, he rated the severity of the
plaintiff's specific limitations in four categories
(understanding and memory, sustained concentration and
persistence, social interaction, and adaptation) and
provided, for each of those categories, a narrative
explanation of his ratings. See ...