United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
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. 11 &
KATHERINE A. ROBERTSON United States Magistrate Judge.
a request by Plaintiff Raymond Charles McDonnell
("Plaintiff") for judicial review of a final
decision by the acting Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration ("Commissioner") regarding
Plaintiff's entitlement to Social Security Disability
Insurance ("SSDI") benefits pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). Plaintiff challenges the Commissioner's
decision denying him such benefits, which is memorialized in
a November 26, 2013 decision by an administrative law judge
("ALJ"), on the asserted ground that the ALJ erred
in concluding that Plaintiff's mental impairments of
depression and anxiety were not severe. Plaintiff has
moved for judgment on the pleadings requesting that the
Commissioner's decision be reversed, or, in the
alternative, remanded for further proceedings (Dkt. No. 11).
The Commissioner has moved for an order affirming the
decision of the Commissioner (Dkt. No. 15).
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 allows Plaintiff's
motion in part and directs a remand to the Commissioner for
additional evaluation of the evidence in light of this
decision and, if necessary, additional development of the
evidence. The court denies the Commissioner's motion.
April 13, 2009, Plaintiff applied for SSDI, alleging a March
14, 2006 onset of disability (Administrative Record
("A.R.") at 13, 185-186, 258). The application was
denied initially and on reconsideration (id. at
73-75, 80-82). Plaintiff requested a hearing before an ALJ,
and one was held on May 3, 2011 (id. at 37-70,
83-84). Following the hearing, the ALJ issued a decision on
June 6, 2011, finding that Plaintiff was not disabled and
denying Plaintiff's claim (id. at 10-24). On
September 8, 2011, the Appeals Council denied review and
affirmed the ALJ's decision (id. at 1-5).
Plaintiff then sought judicial review, and, on July 23, 2012,
based on the parties' agreement, another session of this
court issued an order reversing the ALJ's decision,
remanding the case for further administrative proceedings,
and entering judgment for Plaintiff (id. at
755-759). Following a new hearing in front of the same ALJ on
August 13, 2012, the ALJ issued a new decision on November
26, 2013, again finding that Plaintiff was not disabled and
denying Plaintiff's claim (id. at 676-694). The
Appeals Council denied review on March 4, 2015 (id.
at 667-670). Thus, the ALJ's decision became the final
decision of the Commissioner. This appeal followed.
Standard for Entitlement to Social Security Disability
order to qualify for SSDI, a claimant must demonstrate that
he was disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act
prior to the expiration of his insured status for disability
insurance benefits. See 42 U.S.C. § 423(a)(1).
A claimant is disabled for purposes of SSDI if he is unable
"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). A
claimant is unable to engage in any substantial gainful
activity when 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).
Commissioner evaluates a claimant's impairment under a
five-step sequential evaluation process set forth in the
regulations promulgated under the statute. See 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520. The hearing officer must determine:
(1) whether the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful
activity; (2) whether the claimant suffers from a severe
impairment; (3) whether the impairment meets or equals a
listed impairment contained in Appendix 1 to the regulations;
(4) whether the impairment prevents the claimant from
performing previous relevant work; and (5) whether the
impairment prevents the claimant from doing any work
considering the claimant's age, education, and work
experience. See id. See also Goodermote v.
Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 690 F.2d 5, 6-7 (1st
Cir. 1982) (describing the five-step process). If the hearing
officer determines at any step of the evaluation that the
claimant is or is not disabled, the analysis does not
continue to the next step. See 20 C.F.R. §
proceeding to steps four and five, the Commissioner must make
an assessment of the claimant's "residual functional
capacity" ("RFC"), which the Commissioner uses
at step four to determine whether the claimant can do past
relevant work and at step five to determine if the claimant
can adjust to other work. See id. "RFC is an
administrative assessment of the extent to which an
individual's medically determinable impairment(s),
including any related symptoms, such as pain, may cause
physical or mental limitations or restrictions that may
affect his or her capacity to do work-related physical and
mental activities." Social Security Ruling
("SSR") 96-8p, 1996 WL 374184, at *2 (July 2,
1996). "Work-related mental activities generally
… include the abilities to: understand, carry out, and
remember instructions; use judgment in making work-related
decisions; respond appropriately to supervision, co-workers
and work situations; and deal with changes in a routine work
setting." Id. at *6.
claimant has the burden of proof through step four of the
analysis. At step five, the Commissioner has the burden of
showing the existence of other jobs in the national economy
that the claimant can nonetheless perform.
Goodermote, 690 F.2d at 7.
Standard of Review
District Court may enter a judgment affirming, modifying, or
reversing the final decision of the Commissioner, with or
without remanding for rehearing. See 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). Judicial review "is limited to
determining whether the ALJ used the proper legal standards
and found facts upon the proper quantum of evidence."
Ward v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 211 F.3d 652, 655
(1st Cir. 2000). The court reviews questions of law de
novo, but must defer to the ALJ's findings of fact
if they are supported by substantial evidence. Id.
(citing Nguyen v. Chater, 172 F.3d 31, 35 (1st
Cir.1999)). Substantial evidence exists "‘if a
reasonable mind, reviewing the evidence in the record as a
whole, could accept it as adequate to support [the]
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)). In applying
the substantial evidence standard, the court must be mindful
that it is the province of the ALJ, and not the courts, to
determine issues of credibility, resolve conflicts in the
evidence, and draw conclusions from such evidence.
Id. So long as the substantial ...