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Butler v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Maine

July 21, 2017



          John C. Nivison U.S. Magistrate Judge.

         In this action, Plaintiff Shaunessy Butler 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 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 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 September 25, 2015, decision of the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) (ECF No. 16-2).[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 found that Plaintiff has severe, but non-listing-level impairments consisting of hypertension, abdominal pain secondary to fibroid tumor, microcytic anemia, history of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus with left leg pain, and shortness of breath. (Decision ¶¶ 3, 4.) The ALJ nevertheless determined that Plaintiff retains the physical residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform light work, subject to several postural and environmental restrictions.[2] (Id. ¶ 5.) Based on the RFC and the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ found Plaintiff can no longer perform her past relevant work, but could, given her vocational background, make a transition to other substantial gainful activity, including certain assembler vocations. (Id. ¶¶ 6, 10.) The ALJ concluded, therefore, that Plaintiff was not under disability between the alleged onset date of July 28, 2012, and the date of decision. (Id. ¶ 11.)

         Plaintiff's Statement of Errors

         Plaintiff first argues that the ALJ failed to appreciate the nature and extent of Plaintiff's physical impairments. (Statement of Errors ¶ 1, ECF No. 23.) Plaintiff also contends the ALJ erred when she asked Plaintiff questions unrelated to Plaintiff's health. (Id. ¶ 2.) In a separate, non-form fact sheet, Plaintiff asserts that the condition of sepsis (evidently related to her MRSA infection history) is not obvious by casual examination, and that her constellation of impairments impact her daily life. (Fact Sheet, ECF No. 23-1.)


         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).

         This Court's review must be guided by the parties' arguments of law and discussion of the factual record; the Court does not scrutinize the ALJ's decision on its own. See D. Me. Local Rule 16.3(a); Rawstron v. Soc. Sec. Admin. Com'r, No. 2:13-CV-00119-NT, 2014 WL 1806864, at *2 (D. Me. May 6, 2014); Lacadie v. Town of Milford, No. 1:07- CV-00101-JAW, 2008 WL 1930410, at *6 n. 8 (D. Me. May 1, 2008).

         B. Analysis

         In support of her findings, the ALJ cited in part the available clinical medical records, the lack of evidence of recent medical treatment, and the results of an April 2013 consultative examination performed by Alan Bean, M.D. (Ex. 10F), who proposed certain exertional limitations the ALJ accepted. (R. 16.) A review of the medical record, which includes not only the evaluation by Dr. Bean, but the assessment of Donald Trumbull, M.D., who concluded the medical record does not contain evidence to support a determination that Plaintiff's physical impairments are functionally severe (Ex. B5A, R. 139 - 140), [3] and the records of Richard Chamberlin, M.D., whose RFC assessment was not inconsistent with the ALJ's determination even though he concluded that Plaintiff has severe physical impairments (Ex. B1A, R. 105 - 107), reveals that the record contains substantial evidence to support the ALJ's RFC finding despite Plaintiff's contentions as to the extent of her physical ...

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