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 Saul,
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 February 13, 2018,
decision of the Administrative Law Judge. (ALJ Decision, ECF
No. 15-2). 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 morbid obesity, cervical and lumbar
degenerative disc disease, spina bifida at ¶ 5, and
degenerative joint disease of the left knee. (R. 17-18.) The
ALJ further found that the impairments leave Plaintiff with
the residual functional capacity for light work, occasional
ramps, stairs, ladders, ropes or scaffolds, and occasional
stooping, kneeling, crouching and crawling. (R. 19.) Given
the RFC and the testimony of a vocational expert, the ALJ
concluded that Plaintiff could perform past relevant work as
a cashier and fast food worker and, consequently, is not
disabled for purposes of the Social Security Act. (R. 24-25.)
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).
alleges the ALJ erred by failing to find at step 2 that
Plaintiff has severe fibromyalgia and a severe mental
impairment, and by failing to recognize the restrictions the
impairments impose when assessing Plaintiff's residual
functional capacity (RFC). Plaintiff further argues that the
errors were essential to the ALJ's step 4 finding.
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.
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, even
severe impairments may be rendered 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
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.
Socobasin v. Astrue, 882 F.Supp.2d 137, 142 (D. Me.
2012) (citing Bolduc v. Astrue, No. 09-CV-220- B-W,
2010 WL 276280, at *4 n. 3 (D. Me. Jan. 19, 2010)
(“[A]n 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.”)).