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Pendleton v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Maine

July 7, 2017



          John C. Nivison U.S. Magistrate Judge

         In this action, Plaintiff Edmond M. Pendleton seeks supplemental security income benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. Defendant, the Social Security Administration Acting Commissioner, found that Plaintiff has severe impairments, but retains the functional capacity to perform substantial gainful activity. Defendant, therefore, denied Plaintiff's request for disability benefits. Plaintiff filed this action for 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 vacate the administrative decision and remand the matter for further proceedings.

         The Administrative Findings

         The Commissioner's final decision is the July 16, 2015, decision of the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (Decision, ECF No. 19-2.)[1] The ALJ's decision tracks the familiar five-step sequential evaluation process for analyzing social security disability claims, 20 C.F.R. § 416.920. The ALJ considered an extended period of alleged disability, commencing with the alleged onset date of April 13, 2009, due to a prior remand in case number 1:13-cv-00137-NT.

         Following further proceedings, the ALJ found that Plaintiff has severe, but non-listing-level impairments consisting of obesity, arthritis of the right knee, degenerative disk disease of the lumbar spine, history of thoracic compression fracture with residual pain, cognitive disorder not otherwise specified, and learning disorder. (Decision ¶ 2.) At step 3, the ALJ concluded, inter alia, that Plaintiff's cognitive disorder does not meet or equal the severity of Listing 12.05.[2] (Id. ¶ 3.)

         In her assessment of Plaintiff's residual functional capacity (RFC), the ALJ found that Plaintiff has the capacity for light work, subject to a four-hour limit on sitting and a four-hour limit of walking and standing; Plaintiff cannot engage in constant twisting, bending, or turning; and Plaintiff can perform simple jobs involving simple instructions and limited changes. (Id. ¶ 4.) The ALJ also determined that Plaintiff's RFC does not enable him to perform past relevant work, but that a person with Plaintiff's vocational profile could perform other substantial gainful activity. (Id. ¶ 9.) Specifically, the ALJ found that such a person could make a transition to occupations such as parking lot attendant, document preparer, and dowel inspector. (Id.) Based on her findings, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff was not under disability between the alleged onset date, April 13, 2009, and the date of decision. (Decision ¶ 10.)

         Plaintiff's Statement of Errors

         Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred at step 3 of the sequential evaluation process when she failed to conclude that Plaintiff's cognitive disorder meets Listing 12.05. (Statement of Errors at 1 - 13, ECF No. 21.) Plaintiff further contends the ALJ's RFC finding lacks support in the record, and that the ALJ did not properly assess the impact of Plaintiff's obesity on Plaintiff's RFC. (Id. at 13 - 18.) Finally, Plaintiff argues the ALJ's explanation for the reason she did not give greater weight to Plaintiff's subjective report of symptoms demonstrates that she erred in her assessment of the evidence. (Id. at 18 - 20.)


         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 evidence, but they are not conclusive when derived by ignoring evidence, misapplying the law, or judging matters entrusted to experts.” Nguyen v. Chater, 172 F.3d 31, 35 (1st Cir. 1999).

         B. Analysis

         1.Listing ...

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