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Bar News - March 18, 2015


US District Court Decision Listing

Jan.-Feb. 2015

* Published

CIVIL PROCEDURE; CONSUMER PROTECTION ACT

2/24/15
Gallagher v. Funeral Source One Supply and Equipment Co., Inc., et al.
Case No. 14-cv-115-PB, Opinion No. 2015 DNH 033

Robert Gallagher sued two funeral supply firms for infringing his patent for a needle injector protection device. He also sued them for violating the New Hampshire Consumer Protection Act (the “CPA”). The defendants countersued Gallagher for violating the CPA by prosecuting an abusive lawsuit. In their counterclaim, the defendants described a settlement proposal that Gallagher had sent to them after he had brought this action. Gallagher moved to dismiss the defendants’ CPA counterclaim for two reasons: first, because it was based on what he maintained was inadmissible settlement negotiation evidence, and second, because it was actually a malicious prosecution suit that, under New Hampshire law, could not be brought until the underlying litigation had ended. This Court rejected both arguments. First, this Court held that Gallagher’s evidentiary argument was premature at the pleading stage. Moreover, this Court noted that settlement negotiation evidence is not barred by Federal Rule of Evidence 408 when used for purposes other than proving liability in the claim under negotiation. Second, this Court held that CPA claims can be brought as distinct claims from common law causes of action even when the underlying facts could support both claims. Thus, the defendants were entitled to bring a counterclaim under the CPA rather than for malicious prosecution, and the termination of litigation element that would otherwise apply in a malicious prosecution claim is therefore immaterial to the CPA counterclaim. This Court also held that CPA liability can extend to abusive litigation practices. Thus, this Court denied Gallagher’s motion to dismiss the defendants’ CPA counterclaim. 11 Pages. Judge Paul J. Barbadoro.


FEDERAL CIVIL PROCEDURE/RELATION BACK

2/14/15
General Linen Service, Inc. v. General Linen Service Co.
Case No. 12-cv-111-LM, Opinion No. 2015 DNH 021

The plaintiff’s motion to amend its complaint to add new defendants was denied where it was filed after the limitation period had run and the proposed amended complaint did not relate back to the original complaint. The proposed amended complaint did not relate back because the plaintiff’s failure to name the proposed new defendants before the running of the limitation period did not result from a mistake concerning their identities. 13 pages. Judge Landya McCafferty.


JURISDICTION: SUBJECT MATTER; SOCIAL SECURITY

1/8/15
Langill v. Social Security Administration
Case No. 13-cv-527-PB, Opinion No. 2015 DNH 002

Amanda Langill appealed the Social Security Administration’s (“SSA’s”) refusal to reopen her claim for disability insurance benefits. She argued that this court has subject matter jurisdiction to review the SSA’s refusal to reopen because mental impairment prevented her from understanding how to appeal the SSA’s decision when it initially denied her claim before the deadline to do so expired. The SSA moved to dismiss Langill’s appeal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, arguing that Langill had failed to raise any claim that this court would have jurisdiction to review. This court noted that although it ordinarily lacks subject matter jurisdiction to review discretionary actions of the SSA, it does have jurisdiction to review colorable constitutional claims. Langill’s claim, this court concluded, was sufficient to meet that lenient standard. Thus, this court denied the SSA’s motion to dismiss. 9 Pages. Judge Paul J. Barbadoro.


PATENTS

2/4/15
SignalQuest, Inc. v. Ten-Ming Chao et al.
Case No. 11-cv-392-JL, Opinion No. 2015 DNH 020

The parties to this patent infringement case presented competing constructions of numerous claim terms from U.S. Patent No. 6,706,979, dealing with an electrical vibration switch. Construing the patent, the court ruled, among other things, that (1) “adapted to be mounted” means simply “capable of mounting,” and does not exclude a “separable and removable item” used to accomplish the mounting, (2) “housing” means simply “enclosure,” and does not require the housing to be “electrically conductive,” (3) “accommodation chamber” means a space confined by upper and lower walls and left and right end portions, rather than only by upper and lower walls, (4) “disposed in” means simply “at least partly inside,” rather than “entirely located within,” (5) the terms “tangential areas” and “rolling surfaces” are not mutually exclusive. 31 pages. Judge Joseph N. Laplante.


PRISON CONDITIONS

2/20/15
Cole v. Fluery
Case No. 13-cv-274-LM, Opinion No. 2015 DNH 030

The plaintiff sued two correctional officers claiming that they used excessive force against him and subjected him to inhumane conditions of confinement. The defendants were granted qualified immunity from the excessive-force claim and were granted judgment as a matter of law on the plaintiff’s claim that his brief exposure to water from flooded toilets or his having to spend 15 hours in a cell without a working toilet were inhumane conditions, for the purposes of an Eighth-Amendment claim. 23 pages. Judge Landya McCafferty.


SOCIAL SECURITY

1/20/15
Marshall v. Social Security Administration
Case No. 14-cv-239-PB, Opinion No. 2015 DNH 010

John Marshall appealed the Social Security Administration’s (“SSA’s”) denial of disability insurance benefits. The Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) denied Marshall’s claim at Step Five of the SSA’s adjudication process, concluding that jobs exist in the national economy that Marshall could still perform despite his disability. The ALJ based this conclusion on the testimony of a vocational expert, but the ALJ failed to pose one of Marshall’s limitations to the vocational expert, preventing the expert’s testimony from fully reflecting Marshall’s disability. For that reason, this court concluded that the vocational expert’s testimony did not provide substantial evidence to support the ALJ’s decision. The SSA argued that the Dictionary of Occupational Titles provided substantial evidence because its descriptions of the occupations that the vocational expert testified that Marshall could still perform did not mention the limitation that the ALJ had failed to pose to the expert. This court disagreed, declining to construe the Dictionary’s mere silence as an affirmative indication that a given limitation does not apply to a particular occupation. Thus, this court determined that substantial evidence did not support the ALJ’s decision and remanded the case for further administrative proceedings. 12 Pages. Judge Paul J. Barbadoro.


2/2/15
Dennis Haskell v. Social Security Administration
Case No. 13-cv-482-JL, Opinion No. 2015 DNH 016

A claimant appealed a ruling of an Administrative Law Judge of the Social Security Administration that the claimant was not disabled by his respiratory conditions, arguing that the ALJ had improperly discounted the opinions of the claimant’s treating physician in finding that the claimant retained the capacity for light work. Affirming the decision, the court ruled that the ALJ had properly given little weight to the treating physician’s opinions, since they were completely unexplained and unsupported by his treatment notes. The court also upheld the ALJ’s finding that the claimant retained the capacity for light work, even without a medical opinion to that effect, since the claimant’s medical records revealed relatively little physical impairment. 12 pages. Judge Joseph N. Laplante.


2/17/15
Littlefield v. Social Security Administration
Case No. 14-cv-053-LM, Opinion No. 2015 DNH 025

In this Social Security appeal, the Acting Commissioner’s decision to deny benefits to the claimant was remanded because the ALJ made a mental residual functional capacity assessment that was not supported by a medical opinion and relied upon inapplicable evidence in making his assessment. 20 pages. Judge Landya McCafferty.


2/20/15
Langill v. Social Security Administration
Case No. 13-cv-527-PB, Opinion No. 2015 DNH 027

Amanda Langill appealed the Social Security Administration’s (the “SSA’s”) refusal to reopen her previously denied claim for disability insurance benefits. She argued that good cause to reopen existed under Social Security Ruling (“SSR”) 91-5p because mental incapacity prevented her from timely requesting review of her claim before the deadline expired. The Administrative Law Judge (the “ALJ”) below found otherwise, and this Court determined that substantial evidence supported the ALJ’s decision. Although Langill pointed to several medical reports in the record to support her claim, this Court found that even if the reports suggested that Langill was experiencing mental illness when her original claim was denied, none of them showed that such illness prevented Langill from understanding how to appeal her claim. This Court also found that other material in the record undermined Langill’s claim that her mental illness prevented her from appealing her claim. Thus, this Court affirmed the ALJ’s decision refusing to reopen Langill’s previously denied claim under SSR 91-5p. 15 Pages. Judge Paul J. Barbadoro.


2/20/15
Amy Lynne Kulsic v. Social Security Administration
Case No. 14-cv-34-JL, Opinion No. 2015 DNH 031

A claimant appealed a ruling of an Administrative Law Judge of the Social Security Administration that the claimant was not disabled by her psychological impairments, arguing that the ALJ had improperly (1) found the claimant’s testimony as to the disabling symptoms of those impairments to be less than fully credible and (2) discounted the opinions of a nurse practitioner who had treated the claimant. Affirming the decision, the court ruled that (1) the ALJ’s credibility determination was supported by substantial evidence, including but not limited to the claimant’s part-time work activities that required her to host regular parties in her home and travel, and (2) in light of that evidence, as well as the provider’s treatment notes showing that the claimant’s symptoms had relented, the ALJ’s decision to give the provider’s opinions little weight was also supportable. 12 pages. Judge Joseph N. Laplante.


2/20/15
Mary Jane O’Neill v. Social Security Administration
Case No. 14-cv-48-JL, Opinion No. 2015 DNH 032

A claimant appealed a ruling of an Administrative Law Judge of the Social Security Administration that the claimant was not disabled by her vascular disease and blindness in one eye, arguing that the ALJ had improperly found that she could perform her past relevant work as a secretary. Affirming the decision, the court ruled that this finding was supportable, if not inevitable, in light of the uncontradicted opinions of a doctor who had examined the claimant that her impairments imposed only slight limitations on her ability to use her fingers and hands and to read, and that, in light of these opinions and other evidence, the ALJ properly declined to credit the claimant’s testimony to the contrary. 7 pages. Judge Joseph N. Laplante.


2/25/15
Gabrielle Marie Gregoire v. Social Security Administration
Case No. 13-cv-544-JL, Opinion No. 2015 DNH 035

On appeal from the Social Security Administration’s denial of the claimant’s application for disability insurance benefits, the court reversed the decision of the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). The court held that although the ALJ had provided good reasons for discounting the opinion of the claimant’s treating physician when determining the claimant’s residual functional capacity (“RFC”), the ALJ had erred in relying solely upon the opinion of a state agency medical consultant as to the claimant’s RFC. The consultant, the court noted, had rendered that opinion without the benefit of significant medical evidence that in some respects contradicted his opinion. As a result, the court remanded the case so the ALJ could consult a medical advisor who could review the entire record and provide an opinion as to the nature and severity of the claimant’s impairments. 11 Pages. Judge Joseph N. Laplante.


2/27/15
Jodie Skellie o/b/o J.D.N. v. Social Security Administration
Case No. 14-cv-10-PB, Opinion No. 2015 DNH 026

Claimant, on behalf of her minor son, sought judicial review of a ruling by the Social Security Administration denying her application for supplemental security income. She contended that the ALJ erred by finding that her son’s attention deficit hyperactivity disorder did not meet, medically equal, or functionally equal a listed impairment. The court disagreed, concluding that the claimant failed to point to any information that would undermine the ALJ’s determination. The court denied claimant’s motion to reverse and granted the Commissioner’s motion to affirm. 18 pages. Judge Paul J. Barbadoro.


2/6/15
Stephen J. Langone v. Social Security Administration
Case No. 14-cv-89-SM, Opinion No. 2015 DNH 019

Claimant moved to reverse or vacate the Acting Commissioner’s decision denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits. Specifically, claimant asserted that the ALJ’s decision was not supported by substantial evidence, the ALJ failed to adequately develop the record, and claimant did not receive a full and fair hearing. The court disagreed, concluding that the ALJ’s conclusion that claimant’s impairments do not meet or equal a listing in the pertinent regulations, his assessment of claimant’s residual function capacity, and his determination regarding claimant’s ability to perform jobs available in the national economy were supported by substantial evidence. Further, the court concluded that the ALJ properly developed the administrative record and fairly considered the testimony of the claimant’s wife such that he was afforded a full and fair hearing. Motion to reverse or vacate the Acting Commissioner’s decision denied. 22 pages. Judge Steven J. McAuliffe.

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