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Lynch v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

March 26, 2019

JOSEPH T. LYNCH, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OF DECISION ON PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO REVERSE THE DECISION OF THE COMMISSIONER (DOCKET NO. 17) AND DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO AFFIRM THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION (DOCKET NO. 20)

          TIMOTHY S. HILLMAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This is an action for judicial review of a final decision by the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the “Commissioner” or “SSA”) denying the application of Joseph T. Lynch (“Plaintiff”) for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits. 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). An administrative law judge (ALJ) found that Plaintiff was not disabled from January 1, 2012, his alleged onset date, through February 23, 2015, the date of the decision, because he was capable of performing a significant number of unskilled sedentary jobs that would accommodate his heart condition and moderate mental limitations. Plaintiff filed a motion for judgment to reverse the decision of the Commissioner (Docket No. 17). The Commissioner filed a cross-motion seeking an order affirming the decision of the Commissioner (Docket No. 20).[2] For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion is granted and Plaintiff's motion is denied.

         Discussion

         The parties are familiar with the factual history of this case and the applicable five-step sequential analysis. Accordingly, the court will review the procedural and substantive history of the case as it relates to the arguments set forth by the Plaintiff.

         On April 26, 2013, Plaintiff protectively filed for DIB and SSI (AR. 97-98, 243-55), alleging that he became disabled on January 1, 2012, due to bipolar disorder and a “heart defibrillator” (AR. 271). He said he was fired from his management position at Fitchburg State University because he was too aggressive and too passive (AR. 292, 316, 345). Plaintiff's applications were denied at two levels of administrative review (AR. 97-166), and he requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (AR. 183-84).

         On January 12, 2015, Plaintiff appeared with an attorney and testified at a hearing before the ALJ (AR. 49-96). A vocational expert also testified (88-94). On February 23, 2015, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled (AR. 20-48). That decision became final on August 8, 2016, when the Appeals Council denied review (AR. 1-6). See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 416.1481.

         The ALJ's Findings

         At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 1, 2012, his alleged onset date (AR. 26). At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: cardiac condition and atrial fibrillation following mitral valve repair surgery; affective disorder; and personality disorder (AR. 26). At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff's impairments did not meet or equal any of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1 (AR. 26-27). Next, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (RFC) for sedentary work, as defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1567(a) and 416.967(a), 2 except that:

He has frequent ability to stoop, kneel, and crouch. The claimant has occasional ability to balance, crawl, and climb ramps and stairs. He must not climb ladders, ropes, and scaffolds. The claimant must avoid concentrated exposure to extreme heat, cold, humidity, and wetness. He must avoid concentrated exposure to pulmonary irritants such as fumes, odors, dust, and gases. The claimant must avoid concentrated exposure to hazardous conditions such as unprotected heights and dangerous machinery, including automotive machinery. He is able to perform work that consists of unskilled tasks, work with simple work related decisions with few workplace changes. There can be brief and superficial interaction with the general public. There can be occasional interaction with coworkers and with supervisors.

(AR. 27-42). At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff could not do his past relevant work as a facilities manager or maintenance supervisor (AR. 42). At step five, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled because he could still do a significant number of other jobs, i.e., order clerk, shipping checker, and visual inspector (AR. 42-43, citing AR. 91-93).

         Standard of Review

         This Court may not disturb the Commissioner's decision if it is grounded in substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. 405(g); 1383(c)(3). Substantial evidence exists when there is sufficient evidence that a reasonable person could agree with the conclusion. Rodriguez v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 647 F.2d 218, 222 (1st Cir. 1981). Thus, this 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, even if the administrative record could support multiple conclusions.” Ortiz v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 955 F.2d 765, 769 (1stCir. 1991) (quotation marks and citation omitted).

         Discussion

         In his assessment, the ALJ acknowledged that Plaintiff's heart condition and mental impairments severely limit his functions and took that into account when he assessed Plaintiff's RFC for simple, sedentary work with limitations on the social and environmental conditions. (AR. 27-42). The relevant question is not whether Plaintiff was symptom-free, but whether his symptoms were persistent and severe enough to preclude all substantial gainful employment. The RFC “is the most you can still do despite your ...


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