United States District Court, D. Maine
ELLEN M. REIL, Plaintiff
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, ACTING COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant
REPORT AND RECOMMENDED DECISION
C. NIVISON U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Plaintiff Ellen Reil's application for 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 past relevant
work. 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).
a review of the record, and after consideration of the
parties' arguments, I recommend the Court affirm the
Commissioner's final decision is the December 9, 2015,
decision of the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (ECF No.
10-2.) The ALJ's decision tracks the familiar
five-step sequential evaluation process for analyzing social
security disability claims, 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520,
found that Plaintiff has severe, but non-listing-level
impairments consisting of attention deficit
disorder/attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and anxiety
disorder, but that Plaintiff has the residual functional
capacity (RFC) to perform a full range of work at all
exertional levels, provided the work involves only
“simple tasks, ” is “object oriented,
” and involves only occasional interaction with the
public. (ALJ Decision ¶¶ 3 - 5.) The ALJ determined
that Plaintiff's RFC would enable her to perform past
relevant work as a maid/housekeeper. (Id. ¶ 6.)
Alternatively, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff could perform
other substantial gainful activity, including the
representative occupations of janitor, kitchen worker,
packager, cleaner, and assembler. Accordingly, the ALJ found
Plaintiff was “not disabled” for the period
starting with the alleged onset date of May 26, 2011, and
ending on the date of decision, December 9, 2015.
(Id. ¶ 7.)
must affirm the administrative decision provided the correct
legal standards were applied and provided the decision is
supported by substantial evidence. This is so 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).
argues the ALJ ignored medical opinion evidence from Brian
Stahl, Ph.D., a state agency consultant, that, if credited,
would preclude Plaintiff's interaction with the general
public. Plaintiff contends the ALJ erred when she omitted the
limitation because she relied on Dr. Stahl to support her RFC
finding and did not explain the reasons she did not follow
Dr. Stahl's opinion regarding Plaintiff's ability to
interact with the public. (Statement of Errors at 8 - 9, ECF
No. 14.) Plaintiff also argues her past relevant work was
part-time and thus cannot serve as a basis for denial at step
4. (Id. at 10.) Plaintiff further maintains the
ALJ's alternative step 5 finding was error because the
vocational expert's opinion upon which the ALJ relied was
unreliable because the hypothetical question from which the
opinion was derived was flawed. (Id. at 11.)
Finally, Plaintiff contends the ALJ did not properly weigh
treating source opinion evidence. (Id. at 12 - 16.)
October 7, 2014, Disability Determination Services consultant
Dr. Stahl, upon reconsideration of the initial denial
determination, found that Plaintiff had the capacity to
engage in substantial gainful activity in the form of
“simple” work, but that she was not able to work
with the public. (Ex. 4A, R. 97 - 98.) Dr. Stahl considered,
inter alia, the report of consultative examination performed
by Patricia Kolosowski, Ph.D. (Ex. 8F, R. 374), and the
available treatment records of Donna Novelli, Ph.D. (Ex. 6F).
(See Ex. 4A, R. 89 - 91.) According to the ALJ, Dr.
Stahl's opinion “is consistent with the
record.” (R. 30.)
most recent mental health provider, Dr. Novelli, opined that
due to Plaintiff's mental impairments, Plaintiff does not
have the mental abilities and aptitudes needed to do
unskilled work. (Ex. 7F, R. 368; Ex. 11F.) Dr. Novelli also
determined that Plaintiff is “seriously limited, but
not precluded” from interacting appropriately with the
general public. (Ex. 7F, R. 369.) The ALJ gave Dr.
Stahl's opinion “substantial evidentiary
weight” and Dr. Novelli's opinion “minimal
weight.” (R. 29.)
contends the ALJ did not sufficiently refute Dr.
Novelli's opinion, and should have given the opinion more
weight. Contrary to Plaintiff's argument, the ALJ
provided sound reasons to reject or discount Dr.
Novelli's opinion, including the fact that the
longitudinal records fail to substantiate limitations
assessed by Dr. Novelli. (R. 29.) Furthermore, the ALJ's
determination is also supported by Dr. Kolosowski's
source statement that Plaintiff “presents as having
some abilities to work in some situations, ” but that
“she might be more successful in situations with few
people.” (Ex. 8F, R. 377.) The ALJ also determined
Plaintiff's subjective report of symptoms was not
particularly credible, citing in part the progress report of
a treating source (Laura Hancock, D.O.) who declined
Plaintiff's request to support her claim of disability on
the ground that Plaintiff appeared to be capable of
working. (R. 28 - 30; Ex. 2F, R. 278.) The
ALJ's credibility assessment, which is supported by
competent evidence on the record, reinforces the ALJ's
decision to assign minimal weight to Dr. Novelli's
opinion. Moreover, the opinions of both Dr. Stahl and Dr.
Kolosowski provide support for the ALJ's finding that
Plaintiff has a residual functional capacity for substantial
gainful activity. In short, the record evidence supports the
ALJ's determination that Plaintiff has the capacity to
perform a full range of work at all exertional levels, with
the ability to understand and carry out simple tasks.
next issue is whether Plaintiff's work capacity includes
some interaction with the public. The ALJ found that
Plaintiff “has a limitation in social interactions
requiring an object oriented task with only occasional work
related interactions with the general public.” (R. 25.)
Plaintiff argues in part that the ALJ erred because although
she afforded substantial weight to Dr. Stahl's opinion,