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Gomez v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

September 15, 2014

JANET QUINONES GOMEZ, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER REGARDING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS AND DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO AFFIRM THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION (Dkt. Nos. 14 and 20)

MARK G. MASTROIANNI, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

This is an action for judicial review of a final decision by the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") regarding an individual's entitlement to Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3) (referencing 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)). Janet Quinones Gomez ("Plaintiff") asserts that the Commissioner's decision denying her such benefits - memorialized in a July 17, 2012 decision of an administrative law judge (ALJ) - is in error. The parties have filed cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings.

For the following reasons, the Court will deny Plainitff's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, (Dkt. No. 14), and will allow Defendant's Motion to Affirm the Commissioner's Decision (Dkt. No. 20).

II. DISCUSSION

A. Standard of Review

A court may not disturb the Commissioner's decision if it is grounded in substantial evidence. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind accepts as adequate to support a conclusion. Rodriguez v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs. , 647 F.2d 218, 222 (1st Cir. 1981). The Supreme Court has defined substantial evidence as "more than a mere scintilla." Richardson v. Perales , 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quoting Consol. Edison Co. v. NLRB , 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). Thus, even if the administrative record could support multiple conclusions, a court must 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 his conclusion." Ortiz v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs ., 955 F.2d 765, 769 (1st Cir. 1991) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

B. Applicable Disability Standard

Entitlement to SSI requires a showing of both disability and financial need. See 42 U.S.C. § 1381a. Here, Plaintiff's financial need is not challenged.

The Social Security Act (the "Act") defines disability, in part, as the inability "to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months." 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). An individual is considered disabled under the Act,

only if his physical or mental impairment or impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind of substantial gainful work which exists in the national economy, regardless of whether such work exists in the immediate area in which he lives, or whether a specific job vacancy exists for him, or whether he would be hired if he applied for work.

42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B); see generally Bowen v. Yuckert , 482 U.S. 137, 146-49 (1987).

In determining disability, the Commissioner follows the five-step protocol described by the First Circuit as follows:

1) if the applicant is engaged in substantial gainful work activity, the application is denied; 2) if the applicant does not have, or has not had within the relevant time period, a severe impairment or combination of impairments, the application is denied; 3) if the impairment meets the conditions for one of the "listed" impairments in the Social Security regulations, then the application is granted; 4) if the applicant's "residual functional capacity" is such that he or she can still perform past relevant work, then the application is denied; 5) if the ...

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