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Scovel v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Maine

July 12, 2017

DAWN M. SCOVEL, Plaintiff


          John C. Nivison U.S. Magistrate Judge.

         In this action, Plaintiff Dawn M. Scovel seeks disability insurance benefits under Title II 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 May 29, 2015, decision of the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) (ECF No. 11-2).[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.

         When Plaintiff initially filed her claim, she alleged an onset date of January 1, 2008, but later amended the onset date to January 1, 2013. Plaintiff's claim is subject to a date last insured of September 30, 2014. The ALJ found that within the relevant period, Plaintiff had severe, but non-listing-level impairments, which consisted of fibromyalgia, degenerative disk disease of the lumbar spine (post-surgery), seizure disorder, migraines, bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome and cubital tunnel syndrome (post bilateral surgical release with good result), affective disorder/depression not otherwise specified, and anxiety disorder not otherwise specified. (Decision ¶¶ 3, 4.)

         The ALJ further found that through the date last insured, Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform light work that required not more than occasional balancing, stooping, kneeling, crouching, crawling and climbing, and no use of ladders, ropes or scaffolds; frequent but not constant handling; no extreme cold, vibrating tools, unprotected heights or irregular terrain; and simple instructions and tasks. (Id. ¶ 5.) While Plaintiff's RFC would not permit her to engage in her past relevant work, in accordance with the testimony from a vocational expert, the ALJ concluded that a person with Plaintiff's RFC and vocational background is “not disabled” under the framework of the Commissioner's Medical-Vocational Guidelines, 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 2. (Id. ¶ 10.) The ALJ, therefore, determined that Plaintiff was not disabled within the relevant timeframe. (Id. ¶ 11.)

         Plaintiff's Statement of Errors

         Plaintiff alleges the ALJ erred as follows: (1) he failed to consider “other evidence of record” as required by 20 C.F.R. § 404.1512 and Social Security Ruling 06-03p, specifically, the statement and report by Plaintiff's most recent former employer; and (2) he failed to weigh properly the treating source opinion of Richard Dubocq, M.D., in violation of 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527 and Social Security Ruling 96-2p.

         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 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

         According to the applicable regulations, the Social Security Administration ordinarily will “give more weight” to opinions provided by treating sources than to opinions offered by non-treating sources. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(2). In particular, “controlling weight” is given to “a treating source's medical opinion on the issue(s) of the nature and severity of [a claimant's] impairment(s)” if the opinion “is well-supported by medically acceptable clinical and laboratory diagnostic techniques and is not inconsistent with the other substantial evidence in [the claimant's] case record.” Id. In addition, with respect to any expert opinion, “the more consistent a medical opinion is with the record as a whole, the more weight we will give to that medical opinion.” Id. § 404.1527(c)(4). “Other factors” include “the extent to which a medical source is familiar with the other information in [the claimant's] case record.” Id. § 404.1527(c)(6).

         Consistent with the regulations, the Social Security Administration Commissioner has determined that as part of the “other evidence, ” the Commissioner “will consider all of the available evidence in the individual's case record, ” including “statements by … others about the impairment(s) and how it affects the individual's functioning.” Social SecurityRuling 06-03p, Titles II and XVI: Considering Opinions and Other Evidence From SourcesWho Are Not “Acceptable Medical Sources” in Disability Claims; Considering Decisionson Disability by ...

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