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Negron v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

March 31, 2019

MARIA NEGRON, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM & ORDER

          Indira Talwani United States District Judge.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff, Maria Negron, proceeding pro se, seeks reversal of the decision by the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying her Social Security disability benefits for the years 2014 to 2017. Compl. [#1]; Mot. Order Reversing Decision Comm'r [#21]. Defendant, Acting Commissioner Nancy A. Berryhill, asks this court to affirm the decision. Mot. Order Affirming Decision Comm'r [#26]. Because Plaintiff previously sought, and was denied, review by the Appeals Council, the decision of the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) is the final decision of the Commissioner. See Notice of Appeals Council Action, Social Security Administration Record of Proceedings (“Rec.”) 2 [#15-2].

         II. Standard

         Upon a motion for review of a final decision of the Commissioner, a district court may enter “a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing.” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). A court may not disturb the Commissioner's findings where they are supported by substantial evidence and the Commissioner has applied the correct legal standard. Ward v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 211 F.3d 652, 655 (1st Cir. 2000). Evidence is substantial where “a reasonable mind, reviewing the evidence in the record as a whole, could accept it as adequate to support a conclusion.” Rodriguez v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 647 F.2d 218, 222 (1st Cir. 1981). A district court may review the ALJ decision “solely on the evidence presented to the ALJ, ” Mills v. Apfel, 244 F.3d 1, 5 (1st Cir. 2001). The court may also remand the case for further proceedings and order that the evidence be added to the record upon a finding that new evidence is material and there is good cause for failure to incorporate such evidence into the record previously. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). However, remand is only appropriate when the court determines that “further evidence is necessary to develop the facts of the case fully, that such evidence is not cumulative, and that consideration of it is essential to a fair hearing.” Evangelista v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 826 F.2d 136, 139 (1st Cir. 1987).

         III. Procedural History

         Ms. Negron filed a Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits on June 16, 2014. See ALJ Hearing Decision, Rec. 9 [#15-2]. The claim was denied initially in August 2014, and again upon reconsideration in November 2014. Id. Ms. Negron requested a hearing, which was held before an ALJ on December 1, 2015. Id. The ALJ issued his decision on January 28, 2016. Id. at 21 [#15-2]. Ms. Negron subsequently sought review of the ALJ's decision from the Appeals Council. See Notice of Appeals Council Action, Rec. 1 [#15-2]. The Appeals Council denied her request for review on August 15, 2017. Id. at 3-5. Subsequently, Ms. Negron filed a complaint in this court on October 12, 2017. Compl. [#1].

         IV. Analysis

         In her Motion for Order Reversing Decision of Commissioner [#21-1], Plaintiff requests that the court reconsider her medical evidence, arguing that “[u]nder the SSA guidelines I have the following musculoskeletal problems, neurological disorders, and mental disorders, ” which makes it difficult to function “the way I was able to do in the [past].” Id. at 2. She also states that she incorrectly filled out her Social Security questionnaire, and that questionnaires filled out by her mental health provider and primary physician were not provided prior to Plaintiff's hearing before the ALJ. Id. at 1.

         Ms. Negron further argues, in her Response to Defendant's Motion for Order Affirming Decision of Commissioner [#30], that the ALJ's decision is not supported by substantial evidence, and the ALJ wrongfully found that she did not have an impairment that meets 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appx. 1. She states that she has ongoing symptoms of chronic neck, back, arm, and joint pain, along with tingling, numbness, and weakness of limbs, as well as depression, poor concentration, and panic attacks, and that she suffers from chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia. Ms. Negron argues in her Response that her impairments are listed in the regulations (in sections relating to the musculoskeletal system, neurological disorders, mental disorders, and immune system disorders). Ms. Negron also asserts that the ALJ relied upon a vocational expert who failed to consider all physical requirements needed to perform certain jobs. Resp. to Def. Mot. Order Affirming Decision Comm'r 2 [#30]. In support, Ms. Negron submitted to the court various exhibits. See generally, Exs. [#30-1].

         Because Ms. Negron requests review of the ALJ's decision and offers new evidence, the court will treat her Motion for Order Reversing Decision of Commissioner as both a motion for review of the Commissioner's decision and a motion to remand for consideration of new evidence.

         A. Motion for Review of a Final Decision of the Commissioner

         In analyzing Ms. Negron's motion first as a motion for review of a final decision, the court considers only the evidence that is in the record. “Judicial review of a Social Security claim 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).

         To determine whether an individual is disabled, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) goes through a five-step sequential evaluation process. Here, at step one, the ALJ found that Ms. Negron had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since June 18, 2014, the alleged onset date. See ALJ Hearing Decision, Rec. 11 [#15-2]. At step two, the ALJ considered whether Ms. Negron has a ‘“medically determinable impairment' that is ‘severe' or a combination of impairments that is ‘severe.'” Id. at 10. The ALJ found that Ms. Negron suffered from several severe mental and physical impairments, including bilateral symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, “possible” radiculopathy, dysthymic disorder, panic disorder, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (“ADHD”), and cannabis abuse. Id. at 11. ...


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