United States District Court, D. Maine
REPORT AND RECOMMENDED DECISION
C. NIVISON U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Plaintiff's application for supplemental security income
benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act,
Defendant, the Social Security Administration 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 vacate the
administrative decision and remand the matter for further
Commissioner's final decision is the June 28, 2017,
decision of the Administrative Law Judge. (ALJ Decision, ECF
No. 9-2.) 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 impairments consisting of
degenerative disk disease of the lumbar and cervical spine;
status post skin graft surgery of the hands for third-degree
burns experienced in a house fire in 1991; chronic
obstructive pulmonary disease (similarly related to the fire
and a severe inhalation injury, but also aggravated by
Plaintiff's smoking habit); personality disorder; and
depressive disorder. (ALJ Decision ¶¶ 2, R. 12 -
14.) The ALJ further found that Plaintiff has the residual
functional capacity (RFC) to perform light exertion, simple,
unskilled work; to frequently use foot controls; to
occasionally balance, stoop, crouch, and kneel; to frequently
rotate, extend, and flex his neck; to frequently handle,
finger, and feel; and to occasionally interact with
co-workers and supervisors. (Id. ¶ 4, R. 15.)
The ALJ, however, found that Plaintiff cannot crawl; tolerate
exposure to extreme cold, extreme heat, wetness, humidity,
excessive vibration, and concentrated airborne irritants; or
tolerate interaction with the public. (Id.)
the stated RFC, Plaintiff's vocational background, and
the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ concluded that
jobs exist in the national economy that Plaintiff can
perform, including the representative occupations of laundry
folder (DOT#369.687-018), flagger (#372.667-022), and sorter
(#529.687-186). (Id. ¶ 9, R. 21.) The ALJ
determined that Plaintiff has not been under a disability
since April 30, 2015, the date Plaintiff filed his
application for SSI benefits. (Id. ¶ 10, R.
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).
argues that in his assessment of Plaintiff's RFC, the ALJ
(1) erroneously weighed the available expert opinion evidence
and (2) erroneously evaluated Plaintiff's testimony.
placed great weight on the RFC opinion provided by Jose
Gonzalez-Mendez, M.D. (Ex. C6A, ECF No. 9-3), who reviewed
the medical evidence of record on behalf of Disability
Determination Services, on March 15, 2016. (R. 19.) The ALJ
characterized Dr. Gonzalez-Mendez's opinion as consistent
with the objective medical evidence and reliable because Dr.
Gonzalez-Mendez reviewed all of the medical evidence and was
familiar with the applicable disability standard.
(Id.) The ALJ, however, did not adopt Dr. Gonzalez-
Mendez's finding that Plaintiff's ability to
stand/walk and to sit are each limited to 6 hours in a
workday. The ALJ also assessed some greater limitations than
Dr. Gonzalez-Mendez identified - specifically, the preclusion
of work in extreme temperatures, wetness, humidity and with
gave partial weight to the opinion of David Axelman, M.D.,
who did not assess Plaintiff's RFC, but based on two
physical examinations, one in January 2014 (Ex. C4F) and the
other in September 2015 (Ex. C9F), determined Plaintiff's
ability to sit, stand, and walk is compromised, though he did
not provide a metric by which to measure Plaintiff's
capacity. Notably, Dr. Axelman found that although
Plaintiff's hands work adequately, he believed Plaintiff
could not handle objects for long periods of time. (Ex. C4F,
R. 356 - 57; Ex. C9F, R. 446, ECF No. 9-7.)
assigned little weight to the RFC assessment offered by
Plaintiff's care provider, Loraine Paradis, D.O. (Ex.
C12F, ECF No. 9-7.) Dr. Paradis determined that Plaintiff
rarely could handle 15 pounds, and never 20 or more; cannot
walk one city block without rest or severe pain; can sit for
less than 1 hour and stand and walk for less than 1 hour in a
workday; and would require 3 - 4 unscheduled breaks of 20 -
30 minutes duration during the typical workday.
(Id.) Dr. Paradis also opined that Plaintiff could
not handle objects or perform fine ...