United States District Court, D. Maine
AMANDA G., ex rel Christopher B. Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.
ORDER ON SOCIAL SECURITY APPEAL
TORRESEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Social Security Disability and Supplemental Security Income
appeal raises the question of whether the Administrative Law
Judge (“ALJ”) supportably found
that the Claimant Christopher B., now deceased, retained the
residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform substantial
gainful activity and was capable of return to past relevant
work as a call center supervisor. The Plaintiff seeks remand
on the grounds that the ALJ erred in giving only partial
weight to the medical expert opinion evidence of the
Claimant's treating rheumatologist. See
Pl.'s Itemized Statement of Errors
(“Statement of Errors”) 2-6 (ECF
No. 10). I affirm.
Commissioner's final decision is the February 12, 2018
decision of the ALJ. R. 1-3, 10-34. The ALJ's decision
tracks the five-step sequential evaluation process for
analyzing social security disability claims. 20 C.F.R. §
found that the Claimant had the severe, but
non-listing-level, impairment of psoriatic arthritis. R.
16-18. The ALJ determined that the Claimant had the residual
functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20
C.F.R. § 404.1567(b), except that he could occasionally
climb ramps and stairs, balance, stoop, kneel, crouch, or
crawl. R. 19. The ALJ further found that the Claimant's
RFC allowed him to perform past relevant work as a call
center supervisor. R. 27. The ALJ therefore concluded that
the Claimant was not disabled during the relevant period. R.
determining RFC, the ALJ first considered the Claimant's
reported symptoms and his medical records. R. 19-24. Second,
the ALJ evaluated the opinions of two state agency medical
consultants, two consulting medical examiners, and two of the
Claimant's treating physicians. R. 24-27. Relevant to
this appeal is the ALJ's decision to give only partial
weight to the opinion of the treating rheumatologist, Dr.
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. 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g); Manso-Pizarro v. Sec'y of Health &
Human Servs., 76 F.3d 15, 16 (1st Cir. 1996) (per
curiam); Rodriguez Pagan v. Sec'y of Health &
Human Servs., 819 F.2d 1, 3 (1st Cir. 1987) (per curim).
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).
“The ALJ's findings of fact are conclusive when
supported by substantial evidence, but 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) (citation
omitted). An ALJ may accept parts of an expert opinion and
reject others, with adequate explanation. See Evangelista
v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 826 F.2d 136,
144 (1st Cir. 1987) (ALJ may “piece together the
relevant medical facts from the findings and opinions of
Plaintiff argues that the ALJ made a number of errors when
deciding to afford Dr. Feller's opinion only partial
weight. Statement of Errors 2-6.
Feller, the Claimant's treating rheumatologist, submitted
an assessment of the Claimant's ability to do
work-related activities on a day to day basis. R. 309-10. In
that assessment, he opined that the Claimant could never lift
or carry over 20 pounds, that he could lift between 5 to 20
pounds occasionally (up to 1/3 of the time), and that he
could lift 0-5 pounds frequently (between 1/2 and 2/3 of the
time). R. 309. Dr. Feller noted that the Claimant's
“joint damage due to inflammation” supported his
lifting/carrying assessment. R. 309. Dr. Feller further found
that the Claimant could stand for 2-3 hours of an 8 hour
workday but not for more than 20 minutes at a time, and that
the Claimant could sit for 5 hours of an 8 hour workday but
not for more than 30 minutes at a time. R. 309. Dr. Feller
opined that the Claimant had certain postural limitations: he
could never balance or crawl but he could occasionally climb,
bend, stoop, crouch, and kneel. R. 310. Dr. Feller assessed
the Claimant's manipulative activities as being able to
reach and push/pull occasionally and that he could feel and
handle frequently. R. 310. Finally, Dr. Feller imposed
environmental limitations of heights, chemicals, fumes,
moving machinery, temperature extremes, and vibration. R.
portion of his opinion dealing with Dr. Feller's
assessment, the ALJ wrote:
I give partial weight to the August, 2016, Treating Source
Statement of the claimant's rheumatologist, Lance S.
Feller, M.D., who provided a similar RFC to that of Dr.
Powell,  except that he limited the claimant to 2-3
hours of standing and walking and 5 hours of sitting in an
8-hour workday, stated that the claimant can frequently
handle and feel, and provided some different environmental
limitations (Ex. 16B/9, 10). Dr. Feller specializes in
rheumatology and has personally treated the claimant over
time (id.). His overall light lifting restrictions
and postural activities are generally consistent with the
evidence of record as a whole, as detailed herein, and his
additional postural restrictions are nonmaterial, as they
would not affect the claimant's ability to return to his
past relevant work, nor would they significantly erode the
unskilled light occupational base (id.). However,
Dr. Feller did not provide adequate narrative in support of
his limitations, having merely described that the claimant
has psoriatic arthritis with “joint damage due to
inflammation” (id.). As detailed above,
although the claimant has had joint pain and swelling upon
physical examinations, this is in the context of significant
noncompliance and flares when he is off of his ...