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Silvia v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

September 22, 2014

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


DENISE J. CASPER, District Judge.

I. Introduction

Plaintiff Charles Joseph Silvia, Jr. ("Silvia") filed claims for disability insurance benefits ("SSDI") and supplemental security income ("SSI") in January 2012. R. 15, 105-06.[1] Pursuant to the procedures set forth in the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3), Silvia now brings this action for judicial review of the final decision of Carolyn Colvin, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("the Commissioner"), issued by an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on February 20, 2013, denying his claim. R. 12-32. Before the Court are Silvia's motion to reverse or remand, D. 13, and the Commissioner's motion to affirm the decision of the ALJ. D. 15. For the reasons discussed below, the Commissioner's decision is AFFIRMED.

II. Factual Background

Silvia was 42 years old when he ceased working on February 9, 2010. R. 46, 189. He previously worked as a gas station attendant and cashier. R. 46-48. Prior to his employment at the gas station, Silva worked as a baker in a donut shop. R. 50. In his January 1, 2012 and January 30, 2012 applications for SSI and SSDI, respectively, he alleged disability due to mental illness, lower back pain, insomnia and impulse control. R. 107, 120. Silva alleged that his disability began on May 1, 2010. Id.

III. Procedural Background

Silvia filed claims for SSDI and SSI, asserting that he had been unable to work as of May 1, 2010. R. 107, 120. The Social Security Administration ("SSA") initially denied his claims on April 26, 2012, R. 135, and again upon reconsideration on September 13, 2012. R. 145-50. On October 2, 2012, Silvia requested a hearing before an ALJ, R. 153-54, and a hearing via video was held on January 24, 2013. R. 40. The ALJ presided over the hearing from Boston, Massachusetts, Silvia and his counsel appeared in New Bedford, Massachusetts and a vocational expert ("VE") testified via telephone. R. 42. In a written decision dated February 20, 2013, the ALJ ruled that Silvia did not have a disability, as defined by the Social Security Act, and denied Silvia's claims. R. 28.

Silvia requested a review of the ALJ's decision and the Appeals Council denied the request on May 15, 2013. R. 1-4. 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 Social Security Income

A claimant's entitlement to SSDI and SSI turns on whether he has a "disability, " defined in this context as an "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 has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than [twelve] months." 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i)(1)(A), 423(d)(1); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505(a). 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 the benefits should 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 ALJ's role is to use her discretion to consider and weigh evidence and make findings and credibility determinations. See Whitzel v. Astrue , 792 F.Supp.2d 143, 148 (D. Mass. 2011). Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), this Court must accept the factual findings of the Commissioner as conclusive "if supported by substantial evidence." 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence may be found where "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 and Human Servs. , 647 F.2d 218, 222 (1st Cir. 1991). The reviewing Court must adhere to these findings "even if the record arguably could justify a different conclusion, so long as it is supported by substantial evidence." Whitzel , 792 F.Supp.2d at 148 (quoting Rodriguez Pagan v. Sec'y of Health and Human Servs. , 819 F.2d 1, 3 (1st Cir. 1987)).

B. Before the ALJ

1. Medical History

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