Yearling v. Colvin
Judge Nathaniel M. Gorton: ENDORSED ORDER entered. MEMORANDUM AND ORDERIn accordance with the foregoing, plaintiffs motion to reverse the decision of the Commissioner (Docket No. 22) is DENIED and defendants motion to affirm the decision of the Commissioner (Docket No. 27) is ALLOWED.So ordered.(Caruso, Stephanie)
United States District Court
District of Massachusetts
Lyle Kurt Yearling
Carolyn W. Colvin
Civil Action No.
MEMORANDUM & ORDER
Lyle Yearling (“Yearling” or “plaintiff”) filed this action
appealing the denial of his application for disability benefits
against Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of the Social
Security Administration (“the Commissioner” or “defendant”).
claims he was improperly denied Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”) because the presiding Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”)
failed to consider valid medical evidence and substituted his
own lay knowledge for information on the record.
On April 3,
2017, plaintiff’s attorney filed a motion for an order reversing
the decision of the Commissioner.
is defendant’s motion to affirm.
Also pending before the Court
For the reasons that follow,
the motion to reverse will be denied and the motion to affirm
will be allowed.
Employment History and Alleged Disability
Yearling was born on October 25, 1986.
He alleges that he
suffers from Osgood-Schlatter disease, severe bipolar disorder,
panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and attention
He also notes a history of special education
in school, physical abuse, violent outbursts, incarceration and
treatment for ADHD and the other disorders from which he
Yearling lacks any substantial work experience.
Yearling was incarcerated from June, 2013 through November,
He contends that during his incarceration he met
regularly with a psychiatrist who prescribed for him medicine
for symptoms relating to his anti-social personality disorder,
anxiety and difficulty sleeping.
Following his release,
Yearling met his primary care physician, Lakshmi Sivasankar, who
prescribed pain medication for symptoms relating to OsgoodSchlatter disease.
Dr. Sivasankar also referred him to a
behavioral health specialist for further treatment of his
Yearling saw several doctors for his various infirmities
leading up to his application for SSI benefits.
2015, psychologist Daniel R. Morocco evaluated Yearling and
administered an IQ test.
Yearling’s full scale IQ measured 60,
and Dr. Morocco diagnosed Yearling with a mild intellectual
In January, 2016, psychiatrist William J. Meehan evaluated
Yearling and concluded he would be unable to complete a normal
The same month, Dr. Sivasankar evaluated Yearling and
determined that, due to Yearling’s physical symptoms, he would
be incapable of even low stress jobs and would require many
Yearling asserts that because of his physical and mental
health problems he cannot be gainfully employed and that seeking
treatment has not helped.
On December 1, 2014, plaintiff filed an application for SSI
benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act (“the Act”)
in which he alleges that he is disabled because of the ailments
The Social Security Administration (“SSA”)
denied his claim in April, 2015.
In July, 2015, the SSA
reconsidered and denied plaintiff’s claim again.
subsequently filed a request for a hearing which was held before
ALJ John Benson in January, 2016.
Plaintiff was represented by
In February, 2016, the ALJ denied plaintiff’s claim,
finding that plaintiff was not disabled as that term is defined
by 42 U.S.C. § 404.1505(a) of the Act.
Plaintiff filed a timely request for review with the
That request was denied in April, 2016,
rendering the ALJ's determination a final decision subject to
judicial review. See Da Rosa v. Sec’y of Health & Human Servs.,
803 F.2d 24, 25 (1st Cir. 1986).
Plaintiff filed his complaint with this Court in June,
The Commissioner filed a motion to dismiss for failure to
state a claim upon which relief can be granted in September,
That motion was denied in November, 2016.
filed a motion to reverse the Commissioner’s decision in April,
The Commissioner filed a motion to affirm in June, 2017.
Both motions are the subject of this memorandum.
Defendant’s Motions to Dismiss
To obtain benefits under § 1602 of the Act, 42 U.S.C.
§ 1381a, an individual must demonstrate that he is unable
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. §§ 423(d)(1)(A) & 1382c(a)(3)(A).
must be of such severity that the claimant is not only unable to
continue his previous work but also unable to engage in other
kinds of substantial work that exist in the national economy
fitting his age, education and work experience. 42 U.S.C. §
The Act gives United States District Courts (“District
Courts”) the power to affirm, modify or reverse an ALJ’s
decision or to remand the case for a rehearing. 42 U.S.C.
A District Court’s review of an ALJ decision is not,
however, de novo. See Lizotte v. Sec’y of Health & Human Servs.,
654 F.2d 127, 128 (1st Cir. 1981).
The Act provides that the
findings of the Commissioner are conclusive if 1) they are
“supported by substantial evidence” and 2) the Commissioner has
applied the correct legal standard. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g);
Seavey v. Barhart, 276 F.3d 1, 9 (1st Cir. 2001).
criteria are satisfied, the Court must uphold the Commissioner’s
decision even if the record could justify a different
conclusion. Evangelista v. Sec’y of Health & Human Servs., 826
F.2d 136, 144 (1st Cir. 1987).
Substantial evidence means
evidence “reasonably sufficient” to support the ALJ’s
conclusion. See Doyle v. Paul Revere Life Ins. Co., 144 F.3d
181, 184 (1st Cir. 1998).
Yearling avers that the ALJ erred in denying his claim for
benefits because: 1) the ALJ failed to consider Dr. Morocco’s IQ
test and connected diagnosis and 2) the ALJ improperly used his
own knowledge to craft plaintiff’s residual functional capacity
Accordingly, Yearling asserts that the decision of the
Commissioner to deny him SSI benefits should be reversed.
The Commissioner responds that Yearling failed to
demonstrate the ALJ’s medical impairment determination and RFC
determinations were unsupported by substantial evidence.
The IQ Test
Yearling first contends that the ALJ erred in concluding he
did not have a qualifying medical impairment because the ALJ
failed to consider his IQ score and diagnosed intellectual
He maintains that in doing so, the ALJ improperly
found Yearling’s impairments do not constitute one of the
impairments listed under Listing 12.05(C) in 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404,
Subpt. P, App. 1 (listings).
A finding that a claimant suffers from a listed impairment
results in an automatic finding of disability. See 20 C.F.R. §
The burden is on the claimant, however, to prove he
satisfies the criteria for a listed condition. See Mills v.
Apfel, 244 F.3d 1, 6 (1st Cir. 2001).
To prove a listed impairment under 12.05(C), Yearling must
demonstrate: (1) significantly sub-average general intellectual
functioning with defects in adaptive functioning that initially
manifested prior to age 22, (2) a valid full scale IQ
performance of 60 through 70 and (3) that he suffers from a
physical or other mental impairment imposing an additional and
significant work related limitation. 20 C.F.R. Pt. 404, Subpt.
P, App. 1 § 12.05(C).
Here, the Commissioner concedes Yearling meets prong three.
The record, however, contains no information on the onset of
Yearling’s infirmities prior to age 22.
Thus, Yearling has not
met his burden of proving he satisfies the prerequisites and the
ALJ’s conclusion that Yearling failed to meet prong one is
supported by substantial evidence.
Further, the ALJ rejected Dr. Morocco’s IQ test and
diagnosis and also found Yearling did not meet the second
requirement of a listed impairment under 12.05(C).
Yearling contends the ALJ substituted his views for medical
opinion, the ALJ does not have to accept IQ scores as conclusive
if there is substantial evidence on the record from which to
infer their unreliability. Soto v. Sec’y of Health & Human
Servs., 795 F.2d 219, 221 (1st Cir. 1986).
The ALJ found substantial evidence on the record suggesting
Dr. Morocco examined Yearling on only one
occasion and did not have the opportunity to view the
consistency of Yearling’s performance.
The ALJ found Yearling
failed to give sufficient effort during the examination and made
inaccurate statements to Dr. Morocco.
Yearling indicated his
hobbies included mentally taxing activities, such as
constructing one’s own motor vehicle, and the ALJ subsequently
inferred that Dr. Morocco’s analysis and diagnosis pertaining to
Yearling’s IQ score was inadequate.
Because the ALJ’s findings
are supported by substantial evidence, this Court must affirm
those findings, “even if the record arguably could justify a
different conclusion.” See Rodriguez-Pagan v. Sec’y of Health
and Human Servs., 819 F.2d 1, 3 (1st Cir. 1987).
Residual Functional Capacity
Yearling avers that the ALJ improperly used his lay
knowledge to craft plaintiff’s RFC.
He claims the ALJ
improperly relied on State Agency opinions, failed to consider
new evidence regarding his health after the State Agency review
and improperly assigned him a more restrictive RFC than
justified by the opinions of the relied-upon medical testimony.
The ALJ found Yearling had the RFC to:
perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 416.967(b) with
the ability to sit for 6 hours a day and lift/carry 20
pounds occasionally and less than 10 pounds frequently,
except he can only stand and/or walk for a total of 2
hours in an 8-hour day. He cannot operate foot controls
with the left lower extremity.
He can occasionally
balance, stoop, kneel, and crouch. He can occasionally
climb ramps or stairs but can never climb ladders, ropes,
He can never crawl.
He can have no
exposure to unprotected heights and cannot operate
dangerous moving machinery. He is limited to performing
simple, routine, and repetitive tasks that are not at a
production rate pace.
He can have occasional
interaction with coworkers and supervisors, but not
interaction with the public. He would require the option
to alternate between sitting and standing at 60-minute
intervals allowing him to remain in the new position for
3 minutes before returning to the previous position but
this would not require him to leave the work station.
In making that finding, the ALJ considered evidence from
State Agency doctors, Wayne Draper and Mary Connelly, and gave
their opinions great weight.
They found Yearling was capable of
performing light physical activity.
The ALJ also gave great
weight to the opinions of State Agency doctors, Mary Ford Clark
and William Alexander, who concluded Yearling was mentally
capable of performing simple tasks.
Yearling responds that those opinions are not substantial
evidence because, unlike the opinions of Drs. Morocco, Meehan
and other medical evidence on which Yearling relies, the State
Agency doctors did not examine him.
however, can constitute substantial evidence. See Perry v.
Astrue No. 11-40215, 2014 WL 4965910, at *5 (D. Mass. Sept. 30,
Thus, the State Agency medical opinions constitute
substantial evidence in support of the ALJ’s RFC determination.
Yearling’s complaint that the ALJ failed to consider new
evidence related to the RFC is unpersuasive.
that the ALJ erred because Dr. Clark did not have access to Dr.
Morocco’s IQ test and diagnosis but the ALJ had already rejected
that evidence based upon substantial contradictory evidence in
the record as described above.
Thus, it is irrelevant that Dr.
Clark did not have access to such information.
Finally, the ALJ did not commit reversible error in
assigning Yearling a more restrictive RFC.
If the RFC includes
greater limitations than those in a physician’s assessment, such
limitations cannot be used to discount the ALJ’s determination.
E.g., Carstens v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 12-1335, 2013 WL 3245224,
at *6 (Concluding finding of medium work by definition includes
ability to perform light work).
It follows that the ALJ did not
err in assigning Yearling a more restrictive RFC than would have
been justified by the opinions of the State Agency physicians.
This Court is bound to uphold the ALJ’s findings where “a
reasonable mind, reviewing the evidence in the record as a
whole” is able to find that the ALJ’s conclusion is adequately
supported by the record. Rodriguez v. Sec’y of Health & Human
Servs., 647 F.2d 218, 222 (1st Cir. 1981).
This Court finds
adequate support in the record for the ALJ’s findings and
conclusion to deny Yearling SSI benefits.
affirm the Commissioner’s decision.
Accordingly, it will
In accordance with the foregoing, plaintiff’s motion to
reverse the decision of the Commissioner (Docket No. 22) is
DENIED and defendant’s motion to affirm the decision of the
Commissioner (Docket No. 27) is ALLOWED.
/s/ Nathaniel M. Gorton______
Nathaniel M. Gorton
United States District Judge
Dated: November 9, 2017
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