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Tighe v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

August 14, 2014

WILLIAM F. TIGHE, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN COLVIN, Acting Commissioner, [1] Social Security Administration, Defendant.


DENISE J. CASPER, District Judge.

I. Introduction

Plaintiff William F. Tighe ("Tighe") filed claims for Social Security Disability Insurance ("SSDI") and supplemental security income ("SSI") with the Social Security Administration ("SSA") on October 28, 2010. R. 180-192.[2] Pursuant to the procedures set forth in the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3), Tighe brings this action for judicial review of the final decision of the SSA Commissioner ("the Commissioner"), issued by an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on June 25, 2012, denying his claim in part. R. 79-92. Before the Court are Tighe's motion for judgment on the pleadings to reverse in part the ALJ's decision, D. 11, and the Defendant's motion to affirm, D.12. For the reasons explained below, the Court DENIES Tighe's motion for judgment on the pleadings and ALLOWS the Commissioner's motion to affirm.

II. Factual Background

Tighe was 44 years old when he ceased working on March 1, 2007. R. 180, 184. He had previously worked as a technician who tested and calibrated heat imaging cameras, as a senior assembler who tested chemistry makeup in fluids, as a missiles technician and as a tester on DNA boards. R. 33-39. In between periods of technical work, he owned and operated a cab business, found temporary technician work, worked as a janitor and, over a period of years, bought and sold five houses. Id.

Tighe filed claims for SSDI and SSI on October 28, 2010, asserting that he was unable to work as of March 1, 2007 due to visual impairment, diabetes, shoulder and back problems, depression and anxiety. R. 180-192, 232.

III. Procedural Background

Tighe filed applications for SSDI and SSI on October 28, 2010. R. 180. The SSA initially denied Tighe's claims on April 6, 2011, R. 99-104, and again upon reconsideration on July 28, 2011. R. 108-113. Tighe requested a hearing before an ALJ, which was held on June 7, 2012. R. 19-66. In a written decision dated June 25, 2012, the ALJ found, in a partially favorable decision to the claimant, that Tighe was disabled as of April 20, 2011. R. 75-92. Therefore, the ALJ concluded that with regard to Tighe's application for SSI that Tighe had been disabled since April 20, 2011. R. 91-92. However, the ALJ determined that Tighe was not entitled to a period of SSDI based on his application filed on October 28, 2010. Id.

Tighe requested a review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council and the request was denied on January 25, 2013. R. 1-3. Accordingly, the ALJ's decision is the final decision of the Commissioner. R. 1.

IV. Discussion

A. Legal Standards

1. Entitlement to Disability Benefits and SSI

A claimant's entitlement to SSDI and SSI turns on whether he has a "disability, " which is defined in this context as an "inability to do any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of no less than twelve months." 42 U.S.C. §§ 406(i), 423(d)(1)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505. The inability must be severe, rendering the claimant unable to do any of his previous work or any other substantial gainful activity which exists in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1505-404.1511.

The Commissioner must follow a five-step process to determine whether an individual has a disability, and, thus, whether that individual's application for benefits will be granted. 20 C.F.R. § 416.920. All five steps are applied to every applicant; the determination may be concluded at any step along the process. Id . First, if the applicant is engaged in substantial gainful work activity, then the application is denied. Id . Second, if the applicant does not have or has not had within the relevant time period, a severe impairment or combination of impairments, then the application is denied. Id . Third, if the impairment meets the condition for one of the "listed" impairments in the Social Security regulations, then the application is granted. Id . Fourth, where the impairment does not meet the conditions of one of the "listed" impairments, if the applicant's "residual functional capacity" ("RFC") is such that he can still perform past relevant work, then the application is denied. Id . Fifth, and finally, if the applicant, given his RFC, education, work experience and age is unable to do any other work, the application is granted. Id.

2. Standard of Review

The Court may affirm, modify or reverse a decision of the Commissioner upon review of the pleadings and record. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Such review, however, is "limited to determining whether the ALJ used the proper legal standards and found facts upon the proper quantum of evidence." Ward v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. , 211 F.3d 652, 655 (1st Cir. 2000) (citing Nguyen v. Chater , 172 F.3d 31, 35 (1st Cir. 1999)). The ALJ's findings of fact are conclusive when supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence exists "if a reasonable mind, reviewing the evidence in the record as a whole, could accept it as adequate to support [the Commissioner's] conclusion." Rodriguez v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs. , 647 F.2d 218, 222 (1st Cir. 1981). Thus, the reviewing Court must adhere to the ALJ's findings "even if the record arguably could justify a different conclusion, so long as it is supported by substantial evidence." Whitzel v. Astrue , 792 F.Supp.2d 143, 148 (D. Mass. 2011) (citing Rodriguez Pagan v. Sec'y of Health and Human Servs. , 819 F.2d 1, 3 (1st Cir. 1987)).

However, the ALJ's findings of fact "are not conclusive when derived by ignoring evidence, misapplying the law, or judging matters entrusted to experts." Nguyen , 172 F.3d at 35 (citations omitted). Thus, if the ALJ made a legal or factual error, the Court may reverse or remand such decision to consider new material evidence or to apply the correct legal standard. Manso-Pizarro v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs. , 76 F.3d 15, 16 (1st Cir. 1996) (citation omitted); see 42 U.S.C. 405(g).

B. Before the ALJ

The Court limits its recitation of the facts to those facts relevant to its limited review of the portions of the ALJ's decision that Tighe asserts were made in error, namely, in regard to the ...

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