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Mandarano v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

March 26, 2019

JOHN MARK MANDARANO, 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. 20) AND DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO AFFIRM THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION (DOCKET NO. 26)

          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 John Mark Mandarano (“Plaintiff”) for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II and Title XVI of the Social Security Act (“Act”). An administrative law judge (ALJ) found that Plaintiff was not disabled from May 24, 2012, his alleged onset date, through the date of the decision. Plaintiff filed a motion for judgment to reverse the decision of the Commissioner (Docket No. 20). The Commissioner filed a cross-motion seeking an order affirming the decision of the Commissioner (Docket No. 26).[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.

         Plaintiff filed for Social Security benefits in February 2014, alleging disability as of May 24, 2012 (AR. 202-05, 206-14). The applications were denied initially and on reconsideration (AR. 67-104). Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) (AR. 140-41), and a hearing was held on April 8, 2015 at which Plaintiff appeared and testified (AR. 34-66). On July 24, 2015, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Plaintiff was not disabled (AR. 5-23). On September 1, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision (AR. 1-4), making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner Case. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 416.1481.1 Plaintiff has exhausted all administrative remedies, and this case is now ripe for review.

         ALJ's Findings

         In evaluating the evidence, the ALJ followed the five-step procedure set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4), but concluded that plaintiff was not disabled. At step one, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since the alleged onset date (AR. 10). At step two, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the following severe impairments: mild chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cervical spondylosis, cervical spine stenosis, lumbar canal stenosis with neurogenic claudication, and status post bilateral wrist surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome with left wrist minor degenerative change (id.). At step three, the ALJ found that Plaintiff did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the criteria of any Listing (AR. 12). The ALJ then made the following finding about Plaintiff's RFC:

After careful consideration of the entire record, the undersigned finds that [Plaintiff] has the residual functional capacity to perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and 416.967(b)[2] except [Plaintiff] would need to avoid heights and using ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. [Plaintiff] would be limited to no more than incidental exposure to the extreme cold and heat, fumes, dusts, gases, and humidity. [Plaintiff] would be limited to no more than 90 degrees left or right head movement. [Plaintiff] would need to avoid overhead lifting and reaching. [Plaintiff] would be limited to no more than frequent grasping, pinching, and twisting with the hands and arms.

(AR. 12). At step four, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was capable of performing his past relevant work as a warehouse supervisor and circuit-board tester (AR. 18). Accordingly, the ALJ found that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Act from the alleged onset date through the date of the Decision (AR. 18-19)

         The ALJ next proceeded to step five, where he solicited the aid of a vocational expert. (Id. at 15, 35). The ALJ posed two hypotheticals to the vocational expert. In the first hypothetical, the ALJ inquired:

         Discussion

         Plaintiff asks this Court to remand the Commissioner's denial of disability benefits for two reasons. First, he claims the Commissioner committed prejudicial error by failing to resolve an apparent conflict between the VE's testimony and the DOT regarding Plaintiff's ability to perform past relevant work relative to reaching. Second, he argues that the ALJ erred by failing to perform a function by function analysis of Plaintiff's lifting function.

         A. Standard of Review

         In reviewing a denial of Social Security disability insurance benefits, this Court may modify, affirm, or reverse a Commissioner's eligibility decision, with or without remanding for a new hearing. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). While this Court reviews the legal standards applied below de novo, its review of the Commissioner's factual determinations is deferential. See Ward v. Commissioner of Soc. Sec., 211 F.3d 652, 655 (1st Cir. 2000) (clarifying that judicial review of Social Security determinations ...


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