United States District Court, D. Rhode Island
J. McConnell, Jr. United States District Judge.
Cory Steffens seeks judicial review of the final
administrative decision of the Commissioner of Social
Security denying his claim for Social Security Disability
Benefits ("SSDI"). The Administrative Law Judge
("ALJ") determined that Mr. Steffens had severe
impairments, specifically that he suffered from an affective
disorder, anxiety disorder, and a personality disorder, but
that he was not disabled because he retained the ability to
perform the full range of work with certain non-exertional
limitations consistent with his limited concentration,
persistence, and pace. Mr. Steffens appeals the
Commissioner's ruling on two grounds", first, that
the ALJ did not base her RFC determination on substantial
evidence in the record, and second, that her credibility
assessment was also not based on substantial evidence.
thorough review of the record and the briefing in this
matter, this Court finds that Mr. Steffens has not met his
burden to show that the ALJ's decision is unsupported by
substantial evidence. Therefore, the Commissioner's
decision is affirmed.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
district court's role in reviewing the Commissioner's
decision is limited. Although questions of law are reviewed
de novo, "[t]he findings of the Commissioner of
Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial
evidence, shall be conclusive[.]" 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). The term "substantial evidence" is
"more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales,
402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quoting Consolidated Edison Co.
v. N.L.R.B., 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)). The
determination of substantiality must be made upon an
evaluation of the record as a whole. Ortiz v. Sec'y
of Health & Human Servs., 955 F.2d 765, 769 (1st
Cir. 1991). In reviewing the record, the Court must avoid
reinterpreting the evidence or otherwise substituting its own
judgment for that of the Secretary. The resolution of
conflicts in the evidence is for the Commissioner, not the
courts. Rodriguez v. Sec'y of Health & Human
Servs., 647 F.2d 218, 222 (1st Cir. 1981) (citing
Richardson, 402 U.S. at 399).
is defined as the "inability to engage in any
substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically
determinable physical or mental impairment" or
combination of impairments "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. §§ 423(d)(1)(A), (d)(2)(B);
see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.1509 ("Unless
your impairment is expected to result in death, it must have
lasted or must be expected to last for a continuous period of
at least 12 months. We call this the duration
must follow five well-known steps in evaluating a claim of
disability. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520,
416.920. First, if a claimant is working at a substantial
gainful activity, he is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. §
404.1520(b). Second, if a claimant does not have any
impairment or combination of impairments, which significantly
limit his physical or mental ability to do basic work
activities, then he does not have a severe impairment and is
not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(c). Third, if a
claimant's impairments meet or equal an impairment listed
in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1, he is disabled.
20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d). Fourth, if a claimant's
impairments do not prevent him from doing past relevant work,
he is not disabled. 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(e). Fifth, if a
claimant's impairments (considering his RFC, age,
education and past work) prevent him from doing other work
that exists in the national economy, then he is disabled. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(f). Significantly, the claimant bears
the burden of proof at steps one through four, but the
Commissioner bears the burden of proving step five.
Goodermote v. Sec'y of Health & Human
Servs., 690 F.2d 5, 7 (1st Cir. 1982).
considering whether a claimant's physical and mental
impairments are severe enough to qualify for disability, the
ALJ must consider the combined effect of all of the
claimant's impairments, and must consider any medically
severe combination of impairments throughout the disability
determination process. 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(2)(B).
Importantly, the ALJ must make specific and pronounced
findings when deciding whether an individual is disabled.
Davis v. Shalala, 985 F.2d 528, 534 (11th Cir.
the five steps, the ALJ found that: (i) Mr. Steffens had not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since August 12,
2013, the application date; (2) Mr. Steffens had severe
impairments of affective disorder, anxiety disorder, and
personality disorder; (3) Mr. Steffens did not have an
impairment or combination of impairments that met or
medically equaled one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R.
Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix l; (4) Mr. Steffens could not
perform his past relevant work, but retained the RFC to
perform a full range of exertional work with certain
limitations; and (5) he is capable of performing jobs that
exist in significant numbers in the national economy
including unskilled medium, light, and sedentary work. In
sum, the ALJ determined that Mr. Steffens was not disabled.
ALJ's RFC Determination is Supported by Substantial
determined that Mr. Steffens retained the RFC to perform a
full range of exertional work with certain limitations. Mr.
Steffens argues that this is error because the ALJ based this
conclusion on her finding that his mental status exams were
"generally intact" or "intact" in the
face of opinions in the record from Dr. Louis Cerbo, Dr.
Ronald Paolino, and treaters from Bridge Mark and Thundermist
Health Center that he suffered from racing thoughts, ADHD,
irritability, difficulty controlling anger, paranoia, and
depression. The ...