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Alden K. v. Social Security Administration Commissioner

United States District Court, D. Maine

November 5, 2018

ALDEN K., Plaintiff
v.
SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION COMMISSIONER, Defendant

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDED DECISION

          John C. Nivison, U.S. Magistrate Judge

         On Plaintiff Alden K's application for disability insurance benefits (DIB) under Title II and supplemental security income (SSI) benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, Defendant, the Social Security Administration Commissioner, found that Plaintiff was under a disability as of the filing date of his SSI claim, and awarded SSI benefits for the period beginning June, 2015.[1] Based on the ALJ's finding that Plaintiff failed to prove disability onset prior to his date last insured under Title II, December 31, 2013, Defendant denied Plaintiff's DIB claim.

         Plaintiff filed this action to obtain judicial review of Defendant's final administrative decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Plaintiff asserts that his disability began on June 30, 2012.

         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 April 21, 2017, decision of the Administrative Law Judge. (ALJ Decision, ECF No. 10-2.)[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, 416.920.

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff, in the period between the alleged onset date and the date last insured, had impairments consisting of thrombocytopenia, hypertension, and hyperlipidemia, but that the impairments were not severe for occupational purposes because they imposed no more than a slight limitation on Plaintiff's ability to engage in basic work activities. (ALJ Decision at 3 ¶ 3, R. 13 - 14.) Of particular note, the ALJ found that because prior to the date last insured, Plaintiff consistently reported feeling well and had normal findings upon examination, and that given the “extensive gap in the treatment history” between January 2012 and October 2013, Plaintiff's alleged onset in 2012 was unreliable.[3] (R. 15.) In further support of his determination that Plaintiff's onset was after the date last insured (December 31, 2013), the ALJ noted that in February 2014, Plaintiff was not receiving any treatment for thrombocytopenia and was only taking Tylenol to address reports of pain consistent with his eventual carpal tunnel syndrome diagnosis.[4] (Id.)

         Standard of Review

          A court 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).

         Discussion

          Plaintiff argues (1) that the ALJ's findings concerning the nature and severity of his impairments prior to December 31, 2013, are not supported by substantial evidence, (2) that the ALJ erred in his assessment of the medical opinion evidence, and (3) that the ALJ erred by not calling a medical expert at his hearing to offer an opinion as to the most likely date of onset of disability. (Statement of Errors at 4, 5, 7, ECF No. 14.)

         1. Nature and severity of impairments

          Plaintiff maintains that the ALJ erred in his assessment of the impairment in 2013 in part because he did not discuss reports of pain in the feet and left knee in September 2009, a shoulder impairment secondary to a remote (30 year old) injury, or the history of Plaintiff's treatment for hypertension. (Statement of Errors at 4.) Plaintiff, however, does not cite and the record does not include sufficient evidence to support his contention that the medical record before December 2013 establishes Plaintiff was disabled.

         Regarding Plaintiff's lower extremeties, the record of treatment in 2009 for acute pain (Ex. 12F, ECF No. 10-7) does not provide a reliable basis for disability prior to the date last insured. In fact, by alleging an onset date in 2012, Plaintiff implicity acknowledges that Plaintiff's 2009 medical records do not support a disability finding. As to hypertension, which is among the impairments the ALJ addressed at step 2, as Defendant notes, treatment records reflect that in June 2013 and October 2013, Plaintiff was taking prescribed medication, had no complaints of hypertension, and the condition was deemed to be under control. (Response at 6, ECF No. 18, citing R. 242 - 249.) The records regarding Plaintiff's shoulder also fail to compel a finding of an earlier onset date. For instance, an October 19, 2016, post-operative report concerning arthroscopy of left shoulder reflects Plaintiff did not seek treatment until years ...


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