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Reyes v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

February 19, 2015

HECTOR LUIS REYES, 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 DECISION OF THE COMMISSIONER (Dkt. Nos. 16 & 22)

KATHERINE A. ROBERTSON, Magistrate Judge.

This is an action for judicial review of a final decision by the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") regarding the plaintiff's entitlement to Social Security Disability Insurance ("SSDI") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1381(c)(3). Plaintiff Hector L. Reyes ("Plaintiff") asserts that the Commissioner's decision denying him such benefits - memorialized in a December 12, 2012 decision by an administrative law judge ("ALJ") - ignored, and was inconsistent with, substantial evidence in the record establishing that his mental impairment(s) rendered him disabled within the meaning of the governing statutes. He further asserts that the ALJ's credibility assessment, which affected the weight the ALJ gave to certain medical reports, rested exclusively and impermissibly on evidence of his past conduct. Plaintiff has filed a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, while the Commissioner has moved to affirm on the grounds that the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence.

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 the Commissioner's motion to affirm and deny Plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings.

I. Standard of Review

A court may not disturb the Commissioner's decision if it is grounded in substantial evidence and based on the correct legal standard. See 42 U.S.C., §§405(g) and 1383(c)(3); see also, e.g., Smith v. Astrue, 851 F.Supp.2d 305, 307 (D. Mass. 2012). A court must uphold the findings of the Commissioner "if a reasonable mind, reviewing the evidence in the record as a whole, could accept it as adequate to support [her] conclusion.'" Ortiz v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 955 F.2d 765, 769 (1st Cir. 1991) (quoting Rodriguez v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 647 F.2d 218, 222 (1st Cir. 1981)). "It is the responsibility of the [Commissioner] to determine issues of credibility and to draw inferences from the record evidence. Indeed, the resolution of conflicts in the evidence is for the [Commissioner], not the courts." Ortiz, 955 F.2d at 769 ( citing Rodriguez, 647 F.2d at 222). "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 [her] conclusions.'" Greene v. Astrue, No. 11-30084, 2012 WL 1248977 *1 (D. Mass. April 12, 2012).

II. Procedural Background

Plaintiff filed his initial application for SSDI and SSI on June 17, 2008, alleging an onset of disability on June 1, 2007. The application was denied initially and on reconsideration (Administrative Record ("A.R.") 89). Following a June 16, 2010 hearing, an ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled ( id. 89-101). Plaintiff successfully appealed to this Court and the case was remanded for further proceedings. See Reyes v. Astrue, No. 11-cv-30086, 2012 WL 1076129 (D. Mass. March 27, 2012).

While his appeal was pending, Plaintiff filed new disability applications, which also were denied initially and on reconsideration (A.R. 244-245). The Appeals Council consolidated the new applications with the 2008 applications, remanding them for a new hearing, which was held on December 14, 2012 ( id. 164). After hearing, a second ALJ concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled ( id. 27-46). The Appeals Council denied review ( id. 1-2). This appeal followed.

III. Disability Standard and ALJ's Decision

An individual may be entitled to SSDI benefits, if, among other things, he has an insured status and, prior to its expiration, is disabled. See 42 U.S.C. § 423(a)(1)(A) and (D). Entitlement to SSI, on the other hand, requires a showing of disability and financial need. See 42 U.S.C. §1381a. Plaintiff's financial need, for purposes of SSI, and his insured status during the relevant period, are not contested. At issue is whether he was disabled by a mental impairment (A.R. 29-30).

The Social Security Act ("the Act") defines disability, in relevant 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 last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A); see also 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A) (similar). An individual is considered disabled within the meaning of the Act

only if his physical and 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. §§ 423(d)(2)(A) and 1382c(a)(3)(B); see also, generally, Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146-149 (1987).

In determining disability, the Commissioner follows a five-step protocol described by the ...


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