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Julia C. v. Saul

United States District Court, D. Maine

August 16, 2019

JULIA C., Plaintiff
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDED DECISION

          John C. Nivison U.S. Magistrate Judge.

         On 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).

         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 December 8, 2017, decision of the Administrative Law Judge. (ALJ Decision, ECF No. 7-2.)[1] The ALJ's decision tracks the familiar five-step sequential evaluation process for analyzing social security disability claims, 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520, 416.920.

         The ALJ found that Plaintiff has severe, but non-listing-level impairments consisting of anxiety disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). (R. 18, 20-21.) The ALJ also found that Plaintiff's claims of borderline intellectual functioning, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), migraines, and stomach symptoms were not medically determinable impairments. (R. 19.)

         Based on her review of the record, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff has the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels, but subject to the following non-exertional limitations: in an 8-hour workday, she could perform simple, routine tasks; never work with the general public; work in sight of coworkers, but no work requiring teamwork or collaborative work; and she could adapt to routine changes and make basic work decisions. (R. 23.)

         Plaintiff has no past relevant work. 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 the jobs of floor cleaner, dish washer and sandwich maker. (R. 31.)

         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).

         Discussion

         Plaintiff argues the ALJ erred when she found that Plaintiff's alleged borderline intellectual functioning (BIF) was not a medically determinable impairment and when she rejected Plaintiff's related post-hearing vocational evidence. Plaintiff further argues the ALJ failed to provide good reasons for discounting the treating source opinions and that the ALJ improperly relied on opinion evidence that was based on an incomplete record.

         A. Step 2

         “No symptom or combination of symptoms can be the basis for a finding of disability, no matter how genuine the individual's complaints may appear to be, unless there are medical signs and laboratory findings demonstrating the existence of a medically determinable physical or mental impairment(s) that could reasonably be expected to produce the symptoms[, ]” Social Security Ruling 96-7p, reprinted in West's Social Security Reporting Service, Rulings 1983-1991 (Supp. 2015) (“SSR 96-7p”), at 133; see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1508.

         At step 2 of the sequential evaluation process, a claimant must demonstrate the existence of medically determinable 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. ...


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