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Resto v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

April 7, 2016

GLADYS RESTO, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


Mark G. Mastroianni United States District Judge

I. Introduction

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 Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3) (referring to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)). Gladys Resto (“Plaintiff”) asserts the Commissioner’s decision denying her such SSI-memorialized in a November 22, 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 failing to adopt the findings of several mental health medical sources when assessing Plaintiff’s residual functional capacity (“RFC”). In response, the Commissioner contends that substantial evidence in the record supports the ALJ’s findings. For the reasons set forth below, the court allows the Commissioner’s motion and denies Plaintiff’s motion. The parties are familiar with the facts and lengthy procedural history[1] of this case, so the court begins its discussion with the standard of review.

II. Standard Of Review

The role of a district court reviewing an administrative law judge’s decision is limited to determining whether the conclusion was supported by substantial evidence and based on the correct legal standard. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1983(c)(3); Manso-Pizarro v. Sec’y of Health & Human Servs., 76 F.3d 15, 16 (1st Cir. 1996). 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)). 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.” Irlanda 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)). Additionally, it is the Commissioner’s responsibility to weigh conflicting evidence and decide issues of credibility. Rodriguez, 647 F.2d at 222.

III. 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. Plaintiff’s financial need is not challenged. Therefore, whether Plaintiff has a disability within the meaning of Section 1614(a)(3)(A) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A) (the “Act”) to qualify for SSI is the only issue at hand.

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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