United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER REGARDING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION
FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS AND DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO
AFFRM THE DECISION OF THE COMMISSIONER (DKT. NOS. 12 &
KATHERINE A. ROBERTSON United States Magistrate Judge
the court is an action for judicial review of a final
decision by the acting Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration (“Commissioner”) regarding the
plaintiff's entitlement to Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”). Plaintiff Kent Alexander Taylor
(“Plaintiff”) asserts that the Commissioner's
decision denying him such benefits - memorialized in a July
23, 2014 decision by an administrative law judge
(“ALJ”) - impermissibly rejected aspects of a
Mental Residual Functional Capability Questionnaire completed
by Plaintiff's treating mental health care provider and
ignored substantial record evidence that contradicted his
conclusion that Plaintiff was not disabled from working by
mental health impairments. 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.
parties have consented to this court's jurisdiction (Dkt.
No. 17). 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.
filed his initial application for SSI benefits on August 20,
2009. See Taylor v. Astrue, 899 F.Supp.2d 83, 85 (D.
Mass. 2012) (“Taylor I”). He claimed he
was disabled due to a herniated disc and numbness in his left
leg and foot, with an onset date of November 1, 2008. The
application was denied initially and on reconsideration. At
Plaintiff's request, a hearing was scheduled in front of
an ALJ, which hearing was held on May 20, 2011. Id.
The ALJ denied Plaintiff's claim in a decision dated July
27, 2011. The Appeals Council denied review, and Plaintiff
filed an action in this court. Id. at 86. This court
concluded that the ALJ had not adequately explained the
weight he assigned to medical opinion evidence from Gina
Hughes, an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse treating
Plaintiff's mental health impairments, and that this
error in the evaluation of Ms. Hughes' opinion might have
affected the outcome of the case. The court remanded the
matter to the Commissioner for a new hearing. See
Id. at 88-90.
February 16, 2012, Plaintiff filed a new claim for SSI
(Administrative Record (“A.R.”) at 577). The
Appeals Council ordered that the subsequent claim be
associated with the remanded claim, and, on October 25, 2013,
the ALJ conducted a single hearing on both claims
(id.). The ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had not been
under a disability, as that term is defined in the Social
Security Act (“the Act”), since August 20, 2009,
and denied both claims (id. at 592-93). The Appeals
Council denied review, and this appeal followed.
Disability standards and the ALJ's decision
issue is whether Plaintiff was disabled by a combination of
physical and mental impairments during the relevant period
(Dkt. No. 13 at 3). The Act defines a person who is disabled
as an individual who “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. § 1382c(a)(3)(A). 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. § 1382c(a)(3)(B); see also generally Bowen
v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137, 146-149 (1987).
determining disability, the Commissioner follows a five-step
protocol described by the First Circuit, 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? A
‘severe impairment' means an impairment
‘which significantly limits the claimant's physical
or mental capacity to perform basic work-related
functions.' If he does not have an impairment of at least
this degree of severity, he is automatically not disabled.
Third, does the claimant have an impairment equivalent to a
specific list of impairments in the regulations' Appendix
1? If the claimant has an impairment of so serious a degree