United States District Court, D. Maine
REPORT AND RECOMMENDED DECISION ON PLAINTIFF'S
STATEMENT OF ERRORS
C. Nivison U.S. Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff Lynette P.'s application for 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).
a review of the record, and after consideration of the
parties' arguments, I recommend the Court affirm the
Commissioner's final decision is the June 17, 2016,
decision of the Administrative Law Judge. (ALJ Decision, ECF
No. 8-2.) 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 post-traumatic stress disorder,
depression, alcohol and opiate dependence, degenerative disc
disease, sacroiliitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease,
and coronary artery disease. (ALJ Decision at 3, ¶¶
2 - 3, R. 15 - 16.) In the ALJ's assessment, while the
impairments restrict Plaintiff's work capacity, Plaintiff
has the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform light
work. As determined by the ALJ, Plaintiff can perform simple,
routine tasks for 2 hour intervals, but cannot negotiate
ropes, ladders, or scaffolds; may only occasionally crawl,
stoop, kneel, or crouch; must avoid concentrated exposure to
cold and wet environments; cannot remember, understand, or
carry out detailed instructions; and may only occasionally
interact with the public in the work setting. (Id.
at 6, ¶ 4, R. 18.)
the RFC assessment, as well as Plaintiff's age and
vocational background, and with the aid of vocational expert
testimony, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff can perform
substantial gainful activity in such representative
occupations as package sorter, collator operator, and laundry
sorter. (Id. at 13 - 14, ¶ 9, R. 25 - 26.)
Accordingly, the ALJ found Plaintiff was not disabled under
the Social Security Act for the period commencing September
25, 2013, the date of Plaintiff's SSI application,
through the date of decision. (Id. at 14, ¶ 10,
must affirm the administrative decision provided the decision
is based on the correct legal standards and 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).
challenges the ALJ's finding regarding her mental RFC for
social interaction. Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's RFC
finding regarding Plaintiff's ability to interact with
members of the public and with supervisors and coworkers is
not supported by substantial evidence. The ALJ limited
Plaintiff to “occasional” interaction with the
public, and found that Plaintiff was not limited in her
ability to interact with supervisors and coworkers.
at the time of hearing Plaintiff had not received any
counseling for more than one year, (Hr'g Tran. at 5 - 6,
ECF No. 8-2, R. 36 - 37), the ALJ referred Plaintiff to a
consultative examining psychologist, Peter Ippoliti, Ph.D.
(Ex. 17F, ECF No. 8 - 9, R. 786 - 793.) Using a checkbox
assessment form approved by the Social Security
Administration, Dr. Ippoliti provided his opinion regarding
Plaintiff's mental RFC. Dr. Ippoliti assessed Plaintiff
as markedly limited in all areas associated with social
interaction in the workplace. (R. 792.) Beneath the
checkboxes, the form asks the examiner to identify “the
factors (e.g., the particular medical signs, laboratory
findings, or other factors described above) that support your
assessment.” Dr. Ippoliti left the space blank.
However, in support of his narrative finding that Plaintiff
“is likely to be reactive and defensive, possibly
misconstruing the behavior of others, ” Dr. Ippoliti
pointed to his consultative evaluation report. (Id.)
In the portion of his report labeled Psychological Source
Statement, Dr. Ippoliti observed that Plaintiff appeared to
be experiencing symptoms associated with trauma history and
severe situational psychosocial stressors, including
homelessness and lack of treatment services. Dr. Ippoliti
found Plaintiff to be a person likely to experience cognitive
difficulty, particularly in relation to abstract reasoning,
problem-solving, and memory. Dr. Ippoliti believed it likely
that Plaintiff would have significant difficulty meeting any
of the social demands of work, due to “reactivity to
others, defensiveness and negativistic attitude, ” and
“cognitive issues.” (R. 789 - 90.)
discounted Dr. Ippoliti's assessment concerning
supervisors and coworkers in part because Dr. Ippoliti saw
Plaintiff only once, and, in the ALJ's view, Dr.
Ippoliti's findings regarding Plaintiff's limitations
were not fully supported by the record. (R. 23 - 24.) As to
social interaction, the ALJ reasoned that marked limitations
were not evident given Plaintiff's ability to maintain
friendships and her ability to interact appropriately with
medical professionals. (R. 24.) Additionally, the ALJ
concluded that the state agency experts, Dr. Leigh Haskell,
Ph.D. (Ex. B2A, ECF No. 8-3, R. 90), and Mary Burkhart, Ph.D.
(Ex. B5A, ECF No. 8-3, R. 108), offered more reliable
assessments of Plaintiff's functional capacity for social
interaction in the workplace. (Id.)
to Dr. Haskell, who reviewed the record in connection with
the agency's initial denial of benefits in December 2013,
Plaintiff is markedly limited in the ability to interact with
the general public, moderately limited in the ability to
accept instructions and respond appropriately to criticism
from supervisors, not significantly limited in the ability to
get along with coworkers and peers without distracting them
or exhibiting behavioral extremes, and not significantly
limited in ...