United States District Court, D. Maine
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION ON PLAINTIFF'S STATEMENT
C. Nivison, U.S. Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff Dawn Z's application for disability insurance
benefits under Title II and supplemental security income
benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act,
Defendant, the Social Security Administration Commissioner,
awarded Plaintiff benefits, but only for a limited period of
disability, based on a finding that Plaintiff experienced
medical improvement. 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, the Court vacates the administrative
decision and remands the matter for further
Commissioner's final decision is the February 8, 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, but non-listing-level
impairments consisting of social anxiety, depression, bipolar
disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, agoraphobia, panic
disorder, chronic knee pain bilaterally, remote right knee
replacement, and fibromyalgia. (R. 25 - 26.) For purposes of
Plaintiff's appeal, the material residual functional
capacity (RFC) findings included the findings that
Plaintiff's impairments would render her off task for
more than 15 percent of the workday, would have required that
she have constant supervision, and would not have permitted
her to tolerate typical work stressors, for the period
beginning November 21, 2013, and ending June 30, 2016. (R.
28.) The ALJ also found that Plaintiff's functional
capacity improved beginning July 1, 2016. (R. 35.)
Specifically, the ALJ found that beginning July 1, 2016,
Plaintiff was able to work independently, would be off task
for only 10 percent of the workday (not including assigned
breaks), and would be absent no more than one day every three
months. (R. 35 - 36.) The ALJ found the changes in
Plaintiff's RFC were material, and in reliance on a
vocational expert's testimony, the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff would be able to perform substantial gainful
activity in specific representative jobs as of July 1, 2016.
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 the ALJ's decision to find her mental residual
functional capacity materially improved as of July 1, 2016,
is not supported by substantial evidence, primarily because
it is unsupported by an expert medical opinion. (Statement of
Errors at 3, 13 - 15.)
regulations recognize that a period of disability may end
based on “medical improvement.”
Medical improvement is any decrease in the medical severity
of your impairment(s) which was present at the time of the
most recent favorable medical decision that you were disabled
or continued to be disabled. A determination that there has
been a decrease in medical severity must be based on
improvement in the symptoms, signs, and/or laboratory
findings associated with your impairment(s).
20 C.F.R. § 404.1594(b)(1). For medical improvement to
be material to a disability claim, the decrease in medical
severity must increase the individual's ability to
perform work activity. Id. § 404.1594(a).
review of the ALJ's decision reflects that the ALJ
modified her findings regarding Plaintiff's RFC based on
her review and interpretation of entries made in
Plaintiff's mental health treatment records beginning in
2016. Based on this review, the ALJ found a significant
improvement in Plaintiff's ability to remain on task
during the typical workday, that Plaintiff no ...