United States District Court, D. Maine
REPORT AND RECOMMENDED DECISION
C. Nivison U.S. Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff Lynn C.'s application for disability insurance
benefits under Title II 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 affirm the
Commissioner's final decision is the November 9, 2016,
decision of the Administrative Law Judge. (ALJ Decision, ECF
No. 6-2.) 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 “other and unspecified
arthropathies, ” diabetes mellitus, peripheral
neuropathy, and dermatitis. (ALJ Decision, R. 26, 29, ECF No.
6-2.) In her step 2 discussion, the ALJ concluded that
Plaintiff has several non-severe impairments, including
carpal tunnel syndrome and psoriatic arthritis. (R. 27 - 29.)
Based on her review of Plaintiff's symptoms and the medical
evidence, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the residual
functional capacity (RFC) to perform light work, occasionally
push or pull with the right upper extremity, and occasionally
climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, and
crawl, but cannot climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds, or
perform overhead work with her right extremity. (R. 29.)
on the RFC finding, Plaintiff's age on the date of
hearing (52 years), Plaintiff's education and vocational
background, and the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ
determined that Plaintiff is capable of performing past
relevant, sedentary work as an appointment clerk in a call
center. (R. 35.) Accordingly, the ALJ found Plaintiff was not
disabled through the date of the ALJ's decision, and
denied Plaintiff's claim. (R. 35 - 36.)
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 decision is not supported by substantial evidence
because the ALJ erroneously found that psoriatic arthritis
and carpal tunnel syndrome are not severe impairments.
Plaintiff observes that appropriate consideration of the
limitations associated with the conditions (specifically,
Plaintiff's ability to handle objects) would rule out a
return to past relevant work, and that a restriction to
sedentary work would dictate a finding of disabled under
Defendant's Medical-Vocational Guidelines.
2 of the sequential evaluation process, a claimant must
demonstrate that he or she has impairments that are
“severe” from a vocational perspective, and that
the impairments meet the durational requirement of the Social
Security Act. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920(a)(4)(ii). The step 2
requirement of “severe” impairment imposes a de
minimis burden, designed merely to screen groundless claims.
McDonald v. Sec'y of HHS, 795 F.2d 1118, 1123
(1st Cir. 1986). An impairment or combination of impairments
is not severe when the medical evidence “establishes
only a slight abnormality or combination of slight
abnormalities which would have no more than a minimal effect
on an individual's ability to work even if the
individual's age, education, or work experience were
specifically considered.” Id. at 1124 (quoting
Social Security Ruling 85-28). In other words, to constitute
a severe impairment, the impairment must have more than a
minimal impact on the claimant's ability to perform basic
work activities on a regular and continuing basis.
2, medical evidence is required to support a finding of
severe impairment. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1521. See also Social
Security Ruling 96-3p (“Symptoms, such as pain,
fatigue, shortness of breath, weakness, or nervousness, will
not be found to affect an individual's ability to do
basic work activities unless the individual first establishes
by objective medical evidence (i.e., signs and laboratory
findings) that he or she has a medically determinable
physical or mental impairment(s) and that the impairment(s)
could reasonably be expected to produce the alleged
symptom(s).”) (citation omitted). A diagnosis, standing
alone, does not establish that the diagnosed impairment would
have more than a minimal impact on the performance of work
activity. Dowell v. Colvin, No. 2:13-cv-00246-JDL,
2014 WL 3784237, at *3 (D. Me. July 31, 2014). Moreover,
severe impairments may be deemed non-severe through the
ameliorative influence of medication and other forms of
treatment. Parsons v. Astrue, No. 1:08-cv-218-JAW,
2009 WL 166552, at *2 n.2, aff'd, 2009 WL