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Tyler H. v. Saul

United States District Court, D. Maine

June 27, 2019

TYLER H., Plaintiff
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant



         On Plaintiff's application for supplemental security income benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (the 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).

         Plaintiff received supplemental security income benefits based on his disability as a child. Pursuant to section 1614(a)(3)(H) of the Act, an individual who is eligible for supplemental security income benefits as a child for the month preceding the month in which he or she attains age 18 must have his or her disability redetermined under the rules that govern disability determinations for adults.

         Following a review of the record, and after consideration of the parties' arguments, I recommend the Court affirm the administrative decision.

         The Administrative Findings

         The Commissioner's final decision is the June 8, 2018, decision of the Administrative Law Judge. (ALJ Decision, ECF No. 9-2).[1] The ALJ's decision tracks the familiar five-step sequential evaluation process for analyzing social security disability claims, 20 C.F.R. § 416.920.

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff has severe, but non-listing-level impairments consisting of affective disorder, anxiety disorder and personality disorder (singly and in combination). (R. 14.) The ALJ did not find that the attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) claimed by Plaintiff were severe impairments. Based on his review of the record, the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels, but was limited to performing simple, repetitive work-related tasks in a non-fast production-paced setting (not including assembly line type work), involving no interaction with the public and only occasional interaction with supervisors and coworkers, and with no team/tandem collaborative type work. (R. 17-18.)

         Plaintiff has no past relevant work. After considering Plaintiff's age, education, work experience, and RFC, the ALJ found that jobs exist in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff can perform, including hand packer, price marker and table worker inspector. (R. 25.)

         Standard of Review

         A court 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).


         Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred when he failed to find at step 2 that Plaintiff has severe impairments of ADHD and ODD. Plaintiff further argues that the ALJ's RFC assessment was not supported by substantial evidence and thus the vocational expert's testimony was not relevant.

         A. Step 2

         At step 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 ...

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