United States District Court, D. Maine
GARRY A. DUNCAN, Plaintiff
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant
MEMORANDUM DECISION 
H. Rich III, United States Magistrate Judge.
Social Security Disability (“SSD”) appeal raises
the question of whether the administrative law judge
supportably found that the plaintiff had no medically
determinable impairment as of his date last insured for
benefits, December 31, 2005. The plaintiff seeks remand on
the bases that the administrative law judge erred in reaching
that conclusion and in failing to apply Social Security
Ruling 83-20 (“SSR 83-20”) to infer his onset
date of disability. See Statement of Specific Errors
(“Statement of Errors”) (ECF No. 13) at 1-10. I
find no reversible error and, accordingly, affirm the
to 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 the
plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Social
Security Act through December 31, 2005, Finding 1, Record at
16; that, through his date last insured, there were no
medical signs or laboratory findings to substantiate the
existence of a medically determinable impairment, Finding 3,
id.; and that he, therefore, had not been disabled
from July 1, 2005, his alleged onset date of disability,
through December 31, 2005, his date last insured, Finding 4,
id. at 18. 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; 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); 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 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).
administrative law judge found that, although the plaintiff
and his wife both testified that he had longstanding mental
health issues and had long engaged in behaviors that included
the performance of elaborate rituals and use of the bathroom
15 to 20 times a day, “[u]nfortunately, there are no
contemporaneous medical records to establish any medically
determinable impairments or the degree of limitation that
existed prior to the date last insured.” Record at 17.
She explained that the record contained neither
“medical evidence prior to December of 2006, almost one
year after the date last insured[, ]” nor
“medical signs or laboratory findings that would
support the existence of a medically determinable impairment
as of the date last insured.” Id. at 18.
gave great weight to the 2012 opinions of three agency
nonexamining consultants, Brian Stahl, Ph.D., Susan Moner,
M.D., and Robert Hayes, D.O., that there was insufficient
evidence to establish the existence of a medically
determinably impairment as of the plaintiff's date last
insured. See id.; see also id. at 87-88,
gave little weight to a March 2013 opinion of treating source
Sally Weiss, M.D., that the plaintiff experienced significant
work-related mental limitations secondary to generalized
anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder (“OCD”)
in that (i) Dr. Weiss did not begin treating the plaintiff
until June 2012, almost seven years after his alleged
disability onset date and six-and-a-half years after his date
last insured, and (ii) Dr. Weiss's statements regarding
the plaintiff's condition as of his date last insured
were “not persuasive as they [were] based on the
[plaintiff's] self-reports made years after the date last
insured, ” and Dr. Weiss did “not describe any
medical signs or laboratory findings prior to the date last
insured that would support her opinion.” Id.
plaintiff contends that this determination was unsupported by
substantial evidence in that the administrative law judge
failed to evaluate whether he had a medically determinable
impairment(s), without regard to his date last insured, and
then to assess the severity of that impairment(s) with the
benefit of evidence postdating his date last insured.
See Statement of Errors at 4-6. He adds that the
administrative law judge failed to assess the credibility of
either his testimony or that of his wife or to discuss
evidence postdating his date last insured that he contends
shed light on his condition as of the relevant time period,
including records showing that:
1. He presented to Stillwater Family Medicine on December 7,
2006, with “extreme anxiety - panic attacks” and
physical symptoms that included heart palpitations and
diarrhea, provided a “long list of symptoms written
down[, ]” and was found on examination to have areas on
his head where he had pulled out his hair. Id. at 3
(quoting Record at 434).
2. His palpitations were determined in testing performed
later that month to be noncardiac in nature. See id.
3. As of December 2008, when he next received medical
treatment, he was diagnosed with severe anxiety and obsessive
compulsive disease traits. See id. at 3-4. At
Stillwater Family Medicine in February 2009, he was diagnosed
with unspecified episodic mood disorder, OCD, personality
disorder, and panic disorder with agoraphobia, following
which he began receiving mental health treatment. See
id. at 4.
4. He received additional mental health evaluation and
treatment in 2009 and 2010, and began treating with Dr. Weiss
on June 7, 2012. See id.
5. In her letter dated March 14, 2013, Dr. Weiss wrote:
[The plaintiff's] generalized anxiety disorder is such
that when stressed he feels the immediate urge to use the
bathroom, this can happen and often does in the middle of [a]
meeting, in the middle of doing anything, it makes it very
difficult for him to meet expectations. He also believes
things should be done “right[, ”] and when they
are not done to his specifications, he gets angry; this seems
to have dated back since before 2005, and interfered a great
deal with his efforts to get an education.
Id. (quoting Record at 482) (edited to conform to
argues that the administrative law judge failed to provide
good reasons for rejecting the Weiss opinion, and that this
was not harmless error because she assessed limitations of
disabling severity that she indicated existed prior to his
date last insured. See id. at 6.
proposition that the administrative law judge was required to
consider whether, at any point, the plaintiff had a medically
determinable impairment, he cites SSR 83-20. See id.
at 4-5. In the alternative, he contends that even if SSR
83-20 is inapposite, remand is warranted in these
circumstances. At oral argument, his counsel distinguished
this case from others in which this court has held SSR 83-20
inapplicable in that, here, the administrative law judge
flatly refused to consider the totality of the evidence
because of a lack of contemporaneous medical evidence,
despite documentation that previous records had been
a sympathetic case. However, I conclude that SSR 83-20 is
inapposite and that, pursuant to the applicable five-step
sequential evaluation process, the administrative law judge
reached a supportable determination that the plaintiff failed
to demonstrate ...