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Martinez v. Colvin

United States District Court, District of Massachusetts

July 11, 2014

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant


KENNETH P. NEIMAN U.S. Magistrate Judge

Orlando Rios Martinez (“Plaintiff”) brings this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the Social Security Act, for judicial review of a final decision by the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”) denying his application for Social Security Disability Insurance (“SSDI”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) benefits. Presently before the court is Plaintiff’s motion for judgment on the pleadings and the Commissioner’s motion to affirm the decision.

The parties have consented to this court’s jurisdiction. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c); Fed.R.Civ.P. 73. For the following reasons, the court will allow Plaintiff’s motion, to the extent it seeks a remand, and will deny the Commissioner’s motion to affirm.

I. Discussion

The parties are well aware of the factual and procedural history of this case, the standard of review, and the applicable five-step sequential analysis. Plaintiff argues that substantial evidence does not support the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”)’s assessed residual functional capacity for two reasons. First, with regard to his physical impairments, Plaintiff argues that the ALJ erred in finding he was capable of performing heavy exertional work. Second, Plaintiff asserts that the ALJ failed to accord controlling weight to the opinions of his treating sources when assessing his mental impairments. While the court does not find Plaintiff’s first argument persuasive, the second issue warrants remand.

A. Physical Impairments

Plaintiff argues that the ALJ’s residual functional capacity assessment, which allowed for his doing heavy exertional work, was inconsistent with record evidence concerning his type 2 diabetes, back pain, and knee pain. In response, the Commissioner argues that the assessment was supported by substantial evidence. The Commissioner, in the court’s view, has the better argument.

“The findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive.” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). A reviewing court will uphold the Commissioner’s findings “if a reasonable mind, reviewing the evidence in the record as a whole, could accept it as adequate to support [her] conclusion.” Irlanda Ortiz v. Sec’y of Health & Human Servs., 955 F.2d 765, 769 (1st Cir. 1991) (quotation omitted). The Commissioner is responsible for determining issues of credibility, drawing inferences from the record, and resolving conflicts in the evidence. Id.

Here, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity to perform heavy exertional work with certain limitations, including “instructions consistent with performing work at the SVP1 and SVP2 level, no interaction with the general public . . . maintain[ing] concentration, persistence, and pace for two hour blocks of time over a normal eight hour workday and forty hour workweek, and . . . adjust[ing] to routine minor type changes at work.” (Administrative Record (“A.R.”) at 20.) In reaching this conclusion, the ALJ noted that Plaintiff claimed disability due to vision problems, high blood sugar, high blood pressure, back pain and knee pain, but explained that, although Plaintiff’s “medically determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to cause the alleged symptoms, ” his “statements concerning the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of these symptoms [were] not fully credible” as they were inconsistent with the objective record evidence. (A.R. at 20-21.)

As for Plaintiff’s diabetes, the ALJ explained that treatment records indicated that this impairment did not cause end organ damage, functional limitation, edema, or significant complications. “In fact”, the ALJ continued, Plaintiff’s “most significant problem with regard to diabetes is that [he] has some trouble sticking with a diabetic diet and requires diabetes education.” (A.R. at 21.) Still, the ALJ noted, Plaintiff had lost weight with counseling and continued to improve his condition, exercised on a stair machine for one hour at a time, and walked twenty minutes to one hour daily. Such activities, the ALJ opined, supported “the conclusion that [Plaintiff] is able to stand/walk for extended periods of time and that his diabetes has not progressed to the point that it limits him as he has alleged.” (Id.)

As for Plaintiff’s alleged vision problems, the ALJ relied on Dr. Kevin Hulseberg, who, after examining Plaintiff, determined that, although he needs reading glasses, he did not have retinopathy. Moreover, with respect to Plaintiff having pterygium, a “benign growth of the conjunctiva that is affected by sunlight, ” that “does not affect his vision.” (A.R. at 21.)

As for Plaintiff’s knee pain, the ALJ explained that (a) imaging of his right and left knees in March of 2011 was normal, (b) Plaintiff does not receive treatment for knee pain and, further, (c) treatment records documented significant physical activity on his part. And although the ALJ acknowledged that treatment records reflected some low back pain, (a) Plaintiff did not receive treatment for that pain, (b) imaging showed “minimal findings, ” and (c) he was able to exercise regularly.

In the court’s view, the ALJ’s decision was supported by substantial evidence. Accordingly, a remand on this issue is unnecessary. See Irlanda Ortiz, 955 F.2d at 770 (remand unnecessary when substantial evidence supports a decision even if ...

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