United States District Court, D. Maine
KRISTINA D. B., Plaintiff
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant
MEMORANDUM DECISION 
H. Rich III United States Magistrate Judge.
Social Security Disability (“SSD”) and
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) appeal
raises the question of whether the administrative law judge
(“ALJ”) supportably found the plaintiff capable
of performing past relevant work as a medical coder or, in
the alternative, other work existing in significant numbers
in the national economy. The plaintiff seeks remand on the
bases that the ALJ erred in (i) deeming her thyroid
impairment nonsevere, (ii) failing to capture all limitations
flowing from her atrial fibrillation and cardiomyopathy in
assessing her physical residual functional capacity
(“RFC”), (iii) providing no explanation of the
extent to which she assessed obesity-related limitations,
(iv) construing raw medical evidence in determining her
mental RFC, and (v) relying on flawed testimony of a
vocational expert (“VE”). See Statement
of Specific Errors (“Statement of Errors”) (ECF
No. 13) at 1-20. I find no reversible error and, accordingly,
affirm the commissioner's decision.
to the commissioner's sequential evaluation process, 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920; Goodermote v.
Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 690 F.2d 5, 6
(1st Cir. 1982), the ALJ found, in relevant part, that the
plaintiff met the insured status requirements of the Social
Security Act through December 31, 2018, Finding 1, Record at
56; that she had the severe impairments of atrial
fibrillation, cardiomyopathy, morbid obesity status post
gastric bypass, major depressive disorder, and borderline
personality disorder, Finding 3, id.; that she had
the RFC to perform light work as defined in 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b) with the additional
limitations that she could occasionally climb ramps, stairs,
ladders, ropes, and scaffolds, occasionally balance, stoop,
kneel, and crawl, needed to avoid concentrated exposure to
respiratory irritants such as perfume, ragweed, dust, fumes,
and mold, could not work with sharp objects, and could
interact on a superficial basis with coworkers, the general
public, and supervisors, Finding 5, id. at 59; that
she could perform past relevant work as a medical coder,
which did not require the performance of work-related
activities precluded by her RFC, Finding 6, id. at
63; that, in the alternative, considering her age (48 years
old, defined as a younger individual, on her alleged
disability onset date, February 15, 2013), education (at
least high school), work experience (transferability of
skills immaterial), and RFC, there were jobs existing in
significant numbers in the national economy that she could
perform, id. at 64; and that she, therefore, had not
been disabled from February 15, 2013, her alleged onset date
of disability, through the date of the decision, November 29,
2016, Finding 7, id. at 65. The Appeals Council
declined to review the decision, id. at 1-3, making
the decision the final determination of the commissioner, 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 416.1481; Dupuis v.
Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 869 F.2d 622,
623 (1st Cir. 1989).
standard of review of the commissioner's decision is
whether the determination made is supported by substantial
evidence. 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3);
Manso-Pizarro v. Sec'y of Health & Human
Servs., 76 F.3d 15, 16 (1st Cir. 1996). In other words,
the determination must be supported by such relevant evidence
as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support the
conclusion drawn. Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S.
389, 401 (1971); Rodriguez v. Sec'y of Health &
Human Servs., 647 F.2d 218, 222 (1st Cir. 1981).
reached Step 4 of the sequential evaluation process, at which
stage the claimant bears the burden of proving inability to
return to past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(f), 416.920(f); Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S.
137, 146 n.5 (1987). At this step, the commissioner must make
findings of the plaintiff's RFC and the physical and
mental demands of past work and determine whether the
plaintiff's RFC would permit performance of that work. 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(f), 416.920(f); Social Security
Ruling 82-62 (“SSR 82-62”), reprinted in
West's Social Security Reporting Service Rulings
1975-1982, at 813.
alternative, the ALJ reached Step 5 of the sequential
evaluation process, at which stage the burden of proof shifts
to the commissioner to show that a claimant can perform work
other than her past relevant work. 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520(g), 416.920(g); Yuckert, 482 U.S. at 146
n.5; Goodermote, 690 F.2d at 7. The record must
contain substantial evidence in support of the
commissioner's findings regarding the plaintiff's RFC
to perform such other work. Rosado v. Sec'y of Health
& Human Servs., 807 F.2d 292, 294 (1st Cir. 1986).
Step 2: Finding of Nonsevere Thyroid Impairment
ALJ deemed the plaintiff's hyperthyroidism nonsevere,
explaining that, “aside from requiring medication
management, there is no indication that th[is] condition
result[ed] in any functional limitations.” Record at
plaintiff challenges this finding on the bases that (i) her
hyperthyroidism contributed to her atrial fibrillation and
cardiomyopathy and required multiple medication adjustments
from December 2014 through March 2016, when it was finally
brought under control, (ii) agency nonexamining consultant
J.H. Hall, M.D., who reviewed her case on reconsideration on
January 23, 2015, deemed her hyperthyroidism severe, and,
(iii) yet, the ALJ rejected the Hall opinion in favor of that
of agency nonexamining consultant John MacEachran, M.D., who
assessed her case on initial review on August 7, 2014, before
her hyperthyroidism was even diagnosed. See
Statement of Errors at 2-4; Record at 196, 198-99, 222,
of this court's admonishment that “an error at Step
2 is uniformly considered harmless, and thus not to require
remand, unless the plaintiff can demonstrate how the error
would necessarily change the outcome of the plaintiff's
claim[, ]” Bolduc v. Astrue, Civil No.
09-220-B-W, 2010 WL 276280, at *4 n.3 (D. Me. Jan. 19, 2010),
the plaintiff contends that the error is harmful because,
whereas Dr. MacEachran deemed her capable of light work, Dr.
Hall deemed her capable only of sedentary work for the period
after December 31, 2014. See Statement of Errors at
4; Record at 198-99, 219, 225-27.
as the commissioner rejoins, see Defendant's
Opposition to Plaintiff's Statement of Errors
(“Opposition”) (ECF No. 15) at 2-4, any error is
harmless. Because, at Step 4, the ALJ deemed the plaintiff
capable of returning to past relevant work as a medical
coder, which is classified as sedentary, see Record
at 63, her adoption of the Hall opinion limiting the
plaintiff to sedentary work would have made no difference.
While the plaintiff separately challenges the ALJ's
reliance on the VE's testimony concerning that job,
see Statement of Errors at 18-19, that challenge is
unavailing for the reasons discussed below.
Step 4: Limitations from Atrial Fibrillation,
plaintiff next argues that the ALJ failed to capture the full
panoply of her limitations stemming from her severe
impairments of atrial fibrillation and cardiomyopathy when
she adopted the opinion of Dr. MacEachern over that of Dr.
Hall. See id. at 5-10. She contends that, in so
doing, the ALJ necessarily interpreted the raw medical
evidence unseen by Dr. MacEachern. See id. at 10.
However, as discussed above, the adoption of the Hall opinion
would not have changed the ALJ's determination that the
plaintiff retained the capacity to perform past relevant work
as a medical coder. Any error, accordingly, is harmless.
Step 4: ...