United States District Court, D. Maine
REPORT AND RECOMMENDED DECISION
C. Nivison U.S. Magistrate Judge
Plaintiff'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, found that
Plaintiff did not have a severe impairment from her alleged
onset date of January 1, 2010, through her date last insured,
June 30, 2012, and continuing through September 30, 2014.
Although the ALJ found Plaintiff had severe impairments from
October 1, 2014, through the date of the decision, the ALJ
determined Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity
(RFC) 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 August 23, 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,
determining that Plaintiff did not suffer from a severe
impairment through her date last insured, the ALJ found that
as of October 1, 2014, Plaintiff had severe, but
non-listing-level impairments consisting of rheumatoid
arthritis, left hip trochanteric bursitis, and spondylosis of
the cervical and lumbar spine. (R. 16.) The ALJ concluded the
impairments limited Plaintiff's work capacity, but that
Plaintiff maintained the ability to perform light work,
except that she had the ability to climb ramps, stairs,
ladders, ropes and scaffolds no more than occasionally, and
stoop, kneel, crouch and crawl occasionally. (R. 17.) The ALJ
further found that Plaintiff must avoid concentrated exposure
to respiratory irritants. (Id.)
the assistance of the testimony of a vocational expert, the
ALJ determined Plaintiff could perform her past relevant work
as a donut shop counter attendant, convenience store clerk,
and cashier. (R. 21.) The ALJ, therefore, concluded Plaintiff
was not under a disability from the date of the alleged onset
(January 1, 2010) through the date of the decision.
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).
contends the ALJ erred when (1) she concluded Plaintiff did
not suffer from a severe impairment before Plaintiff's
date last insured; (2) she afforded little weight to the
opinion of Roberta Goff, a nurse practitioner; and (3) she
determined Plaintiff's statements regarding the
intensity, persistence and effects of her symptoms were not
entirely consistent with the medical evidence and other
evidence of record.
Step 2 Finding
Plaintiff contends the ALJ erred when she found that
Plaintiff did not have a severe impairment before her date
last insured because the opinions of the consultant experts,
which opinions the ALJ gave great weight, reflect that
Plaintiff “had a severe inflammatory arthritis
impairment” before Plaintiff's date last insured.
(Plaintiff's Statement of Errors at 7, ECF No. 13.)
2 of the sequential evaluation process, a claimant must
demonstrate the existence of 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, an impairment
is severe if it has more than a minimal impact on the
claimant's ability to perform basic work activities on a
regular and continuing basis. Id. However, if error
occurred at step 2, remand is only appropriate when the
claimant can demonstrate that an omitted impairment imposes a
restriction beyond the physical and mental limitations
recognized in the Commissioner's RFC finding, and that
the additional restriction is material to the ALJ's
“not disabled” finding at step 4 or step 5.