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Armsworthy v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Maine

June 30, 2017

DWAYNE M. ARMSWORTHY, Plaintiff
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, ACTING COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDED DECISION

          JOHN C. NIVISON U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         In this action, Plaintiff Dwayne M. Armsworthy seeks disability insurance benefits under Title II and supplemental security income benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. Defendant, the Social Security Administration Acting Commissioner, found that Plaintiff has a severe impairment but retains the functional capacity to perform substantial gainful activity. Defendant, therefore, denied Plaintiff's request for disability benefits. Plaintiff filed this action to obtain judicial review of Defendant's final administrative decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         Following a review of the record, and after consideration of the parties' arguments, I recommend the Court affirm the administrative decision.

         The Administrative Findings

         The Commissioner's final decision is the June 6, 2016, decision of the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) (ECF No. 9-2).[1] The ALJ's decision tracks the familiar five-step sequential evaluation process for analyzing social security disability claims, 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920.

         The ALJ determined that Plaintiff has one severe, but non-listing-level impairment: borderline intellectual functioning. (Decision ¶¶ 3 - 4.) The ALJ further found Plaintiff to have the residual functional capacity (RFC) for work at all exertional levels, with non-exertional limitations restricting him to work that involved simple instructions and decisions, and work that excluded public interaction. (Id. ¶ 5.) While Plaintiff cannot perform his past relevant work, which was semi-skilled, in accordance with the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ concluded that a person with Plaintiff's RFC and vocational profile could make an adjustment to other substantial gainful activity, including specific vocations existing in substantial numbers in the national economy. (Id. ¶¶ 6, 10.) The ALJ, therefore, concluded that Plaintiff was not under a disability from November 1, 2014, through the date of the ALJ's decision. (Id. ¶ 11.)

         Background Facts

         At the time of Plaintiff's hearing on May 6, 2016, the only diagnostic testing of Plaintiff's intellectual functioning was a 2007 consultative examination performed by Edward Quinn, Ph.D., on behalf of the Maine Disability Determination Services. (Ex. 1F.) That evaluation was evidently conducted in connection with a prior disability claim.

         On April 8, 2016, Plaintiff requested a new examination in support of his current application. The ALJ did not address the request prior to the hearing date, but at the hearing, the ALJ denied the request for any further evaluation. After the hearing, Plaintiff asked the ALJ to dismiss the request for hearing. (R. 217.) The ALJ denied the motion and issued a decision on the merits. (Decision at 1, R. 20.)

         Plaintiff's Statement of Errors

         Plaintiff argues the ALJ abused his discretion when he (1) did not order a further consultative examination, and denied the request for dismissal; (2) failed to develop the record and denied the applications in the absence of substantial evidence; and (3) determined Plaintiff's RFC by assessing raw medical evidence without the aid of any supportive expert opinion.

         Discussion

         A. Standard of Review

         A court must affirm the administrative decision provided that the ALJ applied the correct legal standards and provided that the 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 ...


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