United States District Court, D. Maine
REPORT AND RECOMMENDED DECISION
H. RICH III, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) appeal
raises the question of whether the administrative law judge
(“ALJ”) supportably found the plaintiff capable
of performing work existing in significant numbers in the
national economy. The plaintiff, proceeding pro se,
seeks remand on the bases that the ALJ erred in (i) failing
to distinguish between symptoms from her degenerative disc
disease (“DDD”) and her myofascial pain syndrome,
(ii) finding that she had experienced almost 100 percent
relief from trigger point injections, (iii) relying on her
activities of daily living, and (iv) relying on her volunteer
driving work. See [Statement of Errors] (ECF No.
25). I find no error and, accordingly, recommend that the
court affirm the commissioner's decision.
to the commissioner's sequential evaluation process, 20
C.F.R. § 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 had the
severe impairment of myofascial pain syndrome, Finding 2,
Record at 17; that she had the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform medium work as defined in 20
C.F.R. § 416.967(c), except that she could occasionally
climb ladders/scaffolds/ropes and occasionally stoop, Finding
4, id. at 21; that, considering her age (23 years
old, defined as a younger individual, on the date she filed
her application for SSI benefits, November 3, 2015),
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, Findings 6-9, id. at 24; and
that she, therefore, had not been disabled from November 3,
2015, the date her SSI application was filed, through the
date of the decision, July 11, 2017, Finding 10, id.
at 25. 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. § 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. § 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 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. § 416.920(g); Bowen v. Yuckert,
482 U.S. 137, 146 n.5 (1987); 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).
Overlap Between DDD, Myofascial Pain Syndrome
plaintiff first challenges the ALJ's finding that,
“even if [her] alleged DDD was a medically determinable
impairment, any symptoms resulting from this condition would
overlap with her severe impairment of myofascial pain
syndrome.” Statement of Errors at ; Record at 18.
She asserts that the ALJ erred in failing to differentiate
between the symptoms caused by her DDD and those caused by
her myofascial pain syndrome. See Statement of
Errors at . Nonetheless, as the commissioner notes,
see Defendant's Opposition to Plaintiff's
Statement of Errors (“Opposition”) (ECF No. 30)
at 2-5, the ALJ concluded that the plaintiff's alleged
DDD was not a medically determinable impairment, see
Record at 18.
individual's symptoms . . . will not be found to affect
the ability to perform work-related activities . . . unless
medical signs or laboratory findings show a medically
determinable impairment is present.” Social Security
Ruling 16-3p (“SSR 16-3p”), reprinted in
West's Social Security Reporting Service,
Rulings 1983-1991 (Supp. 2018), at 666. Thus, “[i]n the
absence of a medically determinable impairment, a
claimant's symptoms rightfully are ignored[.]”
Blackmore ex rel. JS v. Astrue, Civil No.
09-385-P-S, 2010 WL 2674594, at *3 (D. Me. June 29, 2010)
(rec. dec., aff'd July 19, 2010).
ALJ's finding that the plaintiff did not have a medically
determinable DDD impairment is supported by substantial
evidence. She explained that she did not credit the October
2015 DDD diagnosis of Jerry Lin, D.O., when Dr. Lin
“note[d] that the lumbar MRI done in 2014 showed normal
findings[, ]” “did not provide a detailed
analysis of the [plaintiff]'s lumbar condition, ”
and did not “cite to objective testing to support his
diagnosis.” Record at 18. And, she relied on the
opinions of two agency nonexamining consultants, Benjamin
Weinberg, M.D., and David Camenga, M.D., both of whom found
no medically determinable DDD impairment, citing normal
lumbar spine x-rays and a normal examination on January 20,
2016. See id. at 23, 73-75, 84-87. No. more was
accordingly, is unwarranted on the basis of the first point
Degree of Relief from Injection Therapy
plaintiff next challenges the ALJ's finding that
“[e]xam notes show that [she] has experienced over 90%
pain relief with trigger point injections.” Statement
of Errors at ; Record at 22 (citation omitted). She
asserts that the relief was closer to 50 percent and that,
even with trigger point therapy, she still had severe issues.
See Statement of Errors at . The commissioner
acknowledges that the plaintiff consistently reported
experiencing at least 50 percent relief. See
Opposition at 9. However, she points out that, in October
2014, the plaintiff reported having had over 80 percent
relief from her prior injection, and in June 2015, just
before her alleged onset date of disability, she reported
“over 90% pain relief with trigger point
injections.” Id. (citing Record at 344;
quoting id. at 337). In the circumstances, as the
commissioner argues, “[t]he ALJ reasonably ...