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 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 20, 2018
decision of the Administrative Law Judge. (ALJ Decision, ECF
No. 9-2, R. 10.) 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 lumbar degenerative disc disease,
alcoholic liver disease, affective disorder, and borderline
intellectual function. (R. 13.) According to the ALJ, the
impairments restrict Plaintiff to light work, occasional
ramps, stairs, ladders, stooping, kneeling, and crouching;
preclude work at heights or with concentrated exposure to
vibration; and permit unskilled work involving occasional
decision making and public interaction. (R. 15.) The ALJ
found Plaintiff cannot perform past relevant work, but he can
transition to other work in the national economy, including
the representative jobs of hand packer, bench assembler,
printer circuit board screener, and bench worker. (R. 18-20.)
The ALJ thus determined that Plaintiff was not disabled. (R.
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).
argues the ALJ erred in his assessment of Plaintiff's
mental impairment. The ALJ found that Plaintiff's severe
mental impairments consist of affective disorder and
borderline intellectual function. (R. 13.) According to
Plaintiff, his mental health disorders also include
post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and panic disorder,
and his affective disorder is “major depression,
moderate.” (R. 6.) Plaintiff contends the ALJ
improperly failed to find at step 2 of the process that
Plaintiff's general anxiety and post-traumatic stress
disorder constitute severe impairments. (Statement of Errors
at 3.) Plaintiff also argues the RFC finding is unsupportable
insofar as it fails to include “restrictions which
address the Plaintiff's inability to concentrate on even
simple work tasks” and “inability to maintain
adequate work attendance.” (Id. at 11.)
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 361193.
alleged an onset of disability of December 2014. (Fact Sheet,
ECF No. 13-1.) The record includes the treatment records of
Katherine Page, MSW, CSW, who began treating Plaintiff in
March 2016, with whom Plaintiff counseled for depression,
post-traumatic distress disorder, panic attacks, and anxiety.
(Exs. 10F, 15F, 16F, 18F, 19F.) Ms. Page diagnosed
significant depression and anxiety, periodic panic attacks,
and agoraphobia. Consulting examiner James Werrbach, Ph.D.,
who saw Plaintiff in August 2016, diagnosed Plaintiff with
post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder, generalized
anxiety disorder, and major depressive episode. (Ex. 8F.)
Consulting examiner Mary Burkhart, Ph.D., who reviewed the
record (including Dr. Werrbach's report and Ms.
Page's treatment notes through November 2016) in
connection with Plaintiff's request for ...