United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
ORDER ON PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO REVERSE AND
DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO AFFIRM
Sorokin United States District Judge
reasons that follow, the Court DENIES Plaintiff's Motion
to Reverse (Doc. 20) and ALLOWS Defendant's Motion to
Affirm (Doc. 25) the denial of Plaintiff's applications
for supplemental security income (“SSI”) and
disability insurance benefits (“DIB”).
7, 2013, Plaintiff Maritza Jordan filed applications for DIB
and SSI. Administrative Record (“AR”) at 209-225.
At the time, Plaintiff alleged a disability onset date of May
31, 2013. Id. at 210, 217. The Social Security
Administration (“SSA”) denied Plaintiff's
applications initially and upon reconsideration. Id.
at 163, 166, 171-76.
Plaintiff's request, on September 10, 2014, a hearing was
held before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”).
Id. at 177-78, 191. At the hearing, Plaintiff was
represented by a “student attorney, ” who was
accompanied by a supervising attorney. Id. at 63. On
the date of the hearing, Plaintiff amended her alleged onset
date of disability (“AOD”) from May 31, 2013, to
January 1, 2014. Id. at 242.
November 20, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision finding
Plaintiff had not been under a disability, as defined by the
Social Security Act, from January 1, 2014, through the date
of the decision. Id. at 51.
January 20, 2015, Plaintiff submitted a request for review of
the ALJ's decision, as well as various additional
evidence, to the SSA's Appeals Council. Id. at
12. On July 10, 2015, the Appeals Council denied
Plaintiff's request for review, finding no “basis
for changing the Administrative Law Judge's
decision.” Id. at 1-2. With respect to the
additional evidence Plaintiff submitted, the Appeals Council
found it did “not show a reasonable probability that,
either alone or when considered with the other evidence of
record, would change the outcome of the decision.”
Id. at 2 (citation omitted).
September 8, 2015, Plaintiff filed the instant action. Doc.
1. On May 9, 2016, Plaintiff filed the instant Motion to
Reverse. Doc. 20. On July 20, 2016, Defendant filed the
instant Motion to Affirm. Doc. 25. On August 16, 2016,
Plaintiff filed a Reply. Doc. 29. On September 13, 2016,
Defendant filed a Sur-Reply. Doc. 33.
Entitlement to Benefits
claimant's entitlement to DIB or SSI turns on whether she
has a “disability, ” defined by the Social
Security Act as an “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. §§ 416(i)(1),
423(d)(1)(A); see 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505. Such impairment
must be sufficiently severe, rendering the claimant unable to
engage in any of her previous work or any other gainful
activity that exists in the national economy. See 42
U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 404.1505.
Commissioner follows a five-step sequential analysis to
determine whether an individual is disabled and thus whether
the application for Social Security benefits should be
approved. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a); see also Seavey
v. Barnhart, 276 F.3d 1, 5 (1st Cir. 2001). At step one,
if the claimant is engaged in substantial gainful work
activity, she is not disabled and the application is denied.
20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a). At step two, if the claimant
does not have, or has not had, within the relevant time
period, a severe medically determinable impairment or
combination of impairments, she is not disabled and the
application is denied. Id. At step three, if the
impairment meets the conditions of one of the
“listed” impairments in the Social Security
regulations, the claimant is disabled and the application is
approved. Id. At step four, where the impairment
does not meet the conditions of one of the listed
impairments, the Commissioner determines the claimant's
residual functional capacity (“RFC”).
Id. If the claimant's RFC is such that she can
still perform past relevant work, she is not disabled and the
application is denied. Id. At step five, if the
claimant, given her RFC, education, work experience and age
is unable to do any other work within the national economy,
she is disabled and the application is approved. Id.
claimant bears the burden of proof for the first four steps,
and must furnish medical or other evidence of the existence
of a disability. Britt v. Colvin, 125 F.Supp.3d 349,
353 (D. Mass. 2015). “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.” Id. (citing Freeman v.
Barnhart, 274 F.3d 606, 608 (1st Cir. 2001)). The ALJ
must consider all of the evidence in the case record, 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(3), and resolve any conflicts in
the evidence. Rodriguez v. Sec'y of Health and Human
Servs., 647 F.2d 218, 222 (1st Cir. 1981). However, the
ALJ need not “directly address in [her] written
decision every piece of evidence” or make
“explicit credibility findings as to each bit of
conflicting testimony, so long as [her] factual findings as a
whole show that [she] implicitly resolved such
conflicts.” N.L.R.B. v. Beverly Enters.-Mass.,
Inc., 174 F.3d 13, 26 (1st Cir.1999) (citations,
alterations, and internal quotation marks omitted);
accord Blackette v. Colvin, 52 F.Supp.3d 101, 119
(D. Mass. 2014).
Standard of Review
Court may affirm, modify or reverse the Commissioner's
decision upon review of the record. See 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). However, 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). Even where the record “arguably could
justify a different conclusion, ” the Court must accept
the Commissioner's findings of fact as conclusive if they
are “supported by substantial evidence.” See
Whitzell v. Astrue, 792 F.Supp.2d 143, 148 (D. Mass.
2011) (quoting Rodriguez Pagan v. Sec'y of Health
& Human Servs., 819 F.2d 1, 3 (1st Cir. 1987))
(internal quotation marks omitted); 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Substantial evidence exists “if a reasonable mind,
reviewing the evidence in the record as a whole, could accept
it as adequate to support [the Commissioner's]
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)) (internal
quotation marks omitted).
makes three arguments for reversal: (1) at step two, the ALJ
and Appeals Council improperly failed to include her rotator
cuff impingement as a severe impairment; (2) the ALJ
“made several errors in the weight that he attributed
to the opinions offered into evidence”; and (3) the ALJ
failed to include Plaintiff's exertional limitations in