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Britt v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

August 27, 2015

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

Page 350

          For Richard Allan Britt, Plaintiff: Tricia M. Jacobs, LEAD ATTORNEY, Law Offices of Thomas Libbos, Springfield, MA.

         For Carolyn W. Colvin Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant: Karen L. Goodwin, LEAD ATTORNEY, United States Attorney's Office, Springfield, MA.

         For Social Security Administration, Interested Party: Thomas D. Ramsey, LEAD ATTORNEY, Office of the General Counsel, Social Security Administration, Boston, MA.

Page 351



         Nature Of The Case

         Plaintiff, Richard Allan Britt (" Britt" or " Plaintiff" ) has brought this action against the Defendant, Carolyn W. Colvin, as Commissioner of Social Security Administration (" Commissioner" ) seeking judicial review of a final decision by the Commissioner denying his application for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits (" SSDI benefits" ). The Commissioner denied Britt's application on the grounds that he was not under a disability within the meaning of the Social Security Act (" Act" ), for the relevant time period. Britt has filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings in which he argues that the Administrative Law Judge (" ALJ" ) erred by failing to assess additional physical limitations on the assessed Physical Residual Functional Capacity, and by not calling on the services of a medical advisor. The Commissioner has file filed a motion for an order affirming the decision on the grounds that the Commissioner's findings are supported by substantial evidence in the record.[1]


         Britt filed an application for SSDI benefits on January 3, 2011, alleging disability due to high blood pressure, diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, hormone imbalance, coronary atherosclerosis, and an injury to his left leg. ( Tr., at p. 11, 138-44, 172). In his SSI application, Britt stated that he became unable to work as of January 1, 2009. ( Id., at 11, 138). On April 28, 2011, the Social Security Administration (" SSA" ) found that Britt was " not disabled" and denied his application. ( Id., at pp. 78-80). After his request for reconsideration

Page 352

was denied, Britt requested hearing before an ALJ which was held on October 23, 2012. ( Id., at pp. 86-89, 90). On November 30, 2012, the ALJ ruled that Britt was " not disabled." ( Id., at pp. 11-17). On November 13, 2013, the SSA Appeals Council notified Britt of its denial of his request for review and therefore, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the SSA. ( Id., at p. 1).

         Standard for Entitlement to SSDI Benefits

         In order to qualify for SSDI benefits, a claimant must demonstrate that he is disabled within the meaning of the Act. The Act defines the term " disability" 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 12 months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). The impairment(s) must be severe enough to prevent the claimant from performing not only his past work, but any substantial gainful work that exists in the national economy. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1560(c)(1). Furthermore, to be entitled to SSDI, a claimant is eligible for benefits where s/he demonstrates that s/he was disabled on or before the date before which s/he was last insured. 42 U.S.C. § 423(a)(1)(A). The claimant has the burden of establishing that s/he was disabled before expiration of his/her insured status. Brunson v. Astrue, 387 Fed.Appx. 459 (5th Cir. 2010).

         An applicant's impairment is evaluated under a five-step analysis set forth in the regulations promulgated under the statute. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520. The First Circuit has described the analytical sequence as follows:

First, is the claimant currently employed? If he is, the claimant is automatically considered not disabled.
Second, does the claimant have a severe impairment . . . mean[ing] an impairment 'which significantly limits his or his physical or mental capacity to perform basic work-related functions[?]' If the claimant does not have an impairment of at least this degree of severity, he is automatically considered not disabled.
Third, does the claimant have an impairment equivalent to a specific list of impairments contained in [Appendix 1 of the Social Security regulations]? If the claimant has an impairment of so serious a degree of severity, the claimant is automatically found disabled.
These first three tests are " threshold" tests. If the claimant is working or has the physical or mental capacity to perform " basic work-related functions," he is automatically considered not disabled. If he has an Appendix 1-type impairment, he is automatically considered disabled. In either case, his claim is determined at the " threshold." If, however, his ability to perform basic work-related functions is impaired significantly (test 2) but there is no " Appendix 1" impairment (test 3), the SSA goes on to ask the fourth question:
Fourth, does the claimant's impairments prevent him from performing work of the sort he has done in the past? If not, he is not disabled. If so, the agency asks the fifth question.
Fifth, does the claimant's impairment prevent him from performing other work of the sort found in the economy? If so, he is disabled; if not, he is not disabled.

Page 353

Goodermote v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 690 F.2d 5, 6-7 (1st Cir. 1982).

         The burden of proof is on the applicant as to the first four steps of the analysis. See 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(5)(A) (" An individual shall not be considered to be under a disability unless he furnishes such medical and other evidence of the existence thereof as the [ALJ] may require." ). At the fifth step of the analysis, the burden shifts to the Commissioner to show that the claimant is capable of performing jobs available in the national economy. Freeman v. Barnhart, 274 F.3d 606, 608 (1st Cir. 2001). In making that determination, the ALJ must assess the claimant's RFC in combination with vocational factors, including the claimant's age, education, and work experience. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1560(c).

         Findings of Fact

         1. Educational, Occupational and Personal History

         Britt's date last insured was December 13, 2010. ( Id., at pp. 13, 168). He was 60 years old on January 9, 2009, the onset date of disability, and 62 years old on his date last insured. ( Id., at p. 168). He is a high-school graduate who completed one or two years of college and has past relevant work as a construction supervisor. ( Id., at pp. 23, 51, 173). Britt was part-owner of a drywall business for the last three years that he worked. ( Id., at p. 26). In that capacity, he supervised two employees and that he lifted a lot of weight. ( Id. ). He began receiving Social Security retirement benefits at age 62. ( Id., at pp. 28-29).

         2. Daily Activities

         At the time of the hearing, Britt testified as to the following activities. He lives with his son, daughter-in-law, and three grandchildren. ( Id., at p. 24). He drives and goes to the store to shop for himself and drives to see his other children from his second marriage. ( Id., at p. 25). He sees them three or four days a week--he often babysits them and takes them to the store or movies. ( Id. ). He is able to cook for himself; his daughter-in-law does his laundry. (Tr. 40). He dresses himself, but has some difficulty putting on his socks and shoes. ( Id. ).

         Britt further testified that for the two years before the hearing, he could comfortably walk about two steps and lift/carry about two gallons of milk. ( Id. ), at pp. 35-36). He had been a power weight lifter until his early 40s and at the time of the hearing, worked out on a universal machine two or three times a week for twenty minutes at a time. ( Id., at pp. 33-34).

         Plaintiff's ...

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