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Guenther v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

February 17, 2016

PAUL E. GUENTHER, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER REGARDING PLAINTIFF’S MOTION FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS AND DEFENDANT’S MOTION FOR ORDER AFFIRMING COMMISSIONER (DKT. NOS. 13 AND 18)

Mark G. Mastroianni United States District Judge

This is an action for judicial review of a final decision by Carolyn Colvin, the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”), regarding an individual’s entitlement to Social Security Disability Insurance (“SSDI”) benefits pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3) (referencing 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)). Paul E. Guenther (“Plaintiff”) asserts the Commissioner’s decision denying him such benefits-memorialized in a July 15, 2013 decision of an administrative law judge (“ALJ”)-is in error. The parties have filed cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings.

At issue is whether the ALJ erred by not fully evaluating the opinion of Theresa Hammond, M.S.W. when assessing the mental aspect of Plaintiff’s residual functional capacity (“RFC”) or by failing to properly exercise discretion in discounting Plaintiff’s credibility.

For reasons discussed below, the court will deny Plaintiff’s Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, (Dkt. No. 13), and allow Defendant’s Motion for Order Affirming the Decision of the Commissioner, (Dkt. No. 18).

I. DISCUSSION

The parties are familiar with the factual and procedural history of this case, so the court begins its discussion with the standard of review.

A. Standard of Review

The role of a district court reviewing an ALJ’s decision is limited to determining whether the conclusion was supported by substantial evidence and based on the correct legal standard. See Seavey v. Barnhart, 276 F.3d 1, 9 (1st Cir. 2001). “The findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive ….” 42 U.S.C. 405(g). Substantial evidence means that “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. 1981). Additionally, it is the Commissioner’s responsibility to decide issues of credibility. Id.

B. Disability Standard and the ALJ’s Decision

Entitlement to SSI requires a showing of both disability and financial need on or after the date of the SSI application. See 42 U.S.C. § 1381a. Here, Plaintiff’s financial need is not challenged. An individual is entitled to SSDI benefits if, among other things, he has an insured status and, prior to the expiration of that status, was under a disability. See Baez v. Astrue, 550 F.Supp.2d 210, 214 (D. Mass. 2008) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 423(a)(1)(A) and (E)). The ALJ determined the Plaintiff meets the insured status requirements for SSDI benefits. (Administrative Record (“A.R.”) at 17.) Whether Plaintiff has a disability is the only issue with respect to both the SSI and SSDI benefits claims.

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 ...


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