United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
LESLEY M. PATTERSON, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant
For Lesley Patterson, Plaintiff: Jeff B. Gomes, Dussault & Gomes, P.C., New Bedford, MA.
For Carolyn W Colvin, Defendant: Shelbey D. Wright, United States Attorney's Office, John Joseph Moakley Federal Courthouse, Boston, MA.
For Social Security Administration, Interested Party: Thomas D. Ramsey, LEAD ATTORNEY, Office of the General Counsel, Social Security Administration, Boston, MA; Shelbey D. Wright, United States Attorney's Office, John Joseph Moakley Federal Courthouse, Boston, MA.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
WILLIAM G. YOUNG, DISTRICT JUDGE.
This is an action by Lesley M. Patterson (" Patterson" ) appealing the final decision
of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security (the " Commissioner" ) determining that she is not disabled and therefore not entitled to Social Security disability benefits. This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
A. Procedural Posture
On November 2, 2010, Patterson filed a Title II application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits, alleging that her disability began on August 31, 2008. Administrative R. (" Admin. R." ) 12, ECF No. 13. The claim was denied initially on April 27, 2011, and upon reconsideration, was denied again on July 18, 2011. Id. Patterson subsequently filed a written request for a hearing on August 9, 2011. Id. Patterson and an impartial vocational expert appeared at a video hearing held on September 14, 2012. Id. The Administrative Law Judge, Henry J. Hogan (the " hearing officer" ) made his findings on November 8, 2012 and concluded that Patterson has not been under a disability within the meaning of the Social Security Act from August 31, 2008 through the date of the decision. Id. at 24. On November 16, 2012, Patterson filed a request for review. Id. at 7. This request was denied on November 15, 2013 on grounds that there was no reason under the rules to review the hearing officer's decision. Id. at 1.
On December 20, 2013, Patterson filed an action before this Court seeking review of the Commissioner's decision. Appeal Action Appeals Council Dep't. Health & Human Servs Den. Disability Ins. Benefits, ECF No. 1. Once the Administrative Record was produced, Patterson filed a motion for judgment before this Court on April 18, 2014, seeking that the Court enter judgment in her favor awarding Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits, or alternatively, to remand the case to the Commissioner for further finding consistent with the evidence. Pl.'s Mot. J., ECF No. 14; Pl.'s Br. Supp. Mot. J. (" Pl.'s Mem." ), ECF No. 15. On June 30, 2014, the Commissioner filed a motion to affirm the decision denying benefits. Def.'s Mot. Order Affirming Decision Comm'r, ECF No. 18; Mem. Supp. Def.'s Mot. Affirm Decision Comm'r (" Def.'s Mem." ), ECF No. 19.
B. Facts and Medical History
The relevant factual history is briefly described here. In order to preserve the privacy of the parties involved, facts not necessary to this Court's decision, though they were considered, are not discussed in this opinion.
1. Initial Cause of Disability
Patterson has worked as a certified nursing assistant and a lead care manager in an assisted living center. Def.'s Mem. 1. On August 30, 2008, Patterson was assisting a co-worker transfer a patient from a bed to a chair when she felt a pulling sensation in her lower back. Admin. R. 263. She had progressive discomfort and went to St. Luke's Hospital, where she was evaluated and was given Flexeril, Motrin, and Tramadol. Id. Patterson claimed that none of these had any effect. Id. She received several other treatments and examinations over the years which are detailed below.
2. Dr. Ajit Mirani (September 2008)
Dr. Ajit Mirani (" Dr. Mirani" ) first evaluated Patterson when she complained of low back discomfort in September 2008.
Id. at 263-64. Dr. Mirani found her to be suffering from low back strain and prescribed Motrin, Flexeril, and Vicodin. Id. at 263. Dr. Mirani instructed her to follow certain work restrictions, including: no lifting, carrying, or pushing more than five pounds; no driving work vehicles; performing sit-down work only; and alternating standing, sitting, and walking for bathroom privileges. Id. at 264. Patterson returned for a follow-up after eight sessions of physical therapy. Id. at 265. Dr. Mirani noted that still complained of occasional discomfort in her lower back, and did not feel like she could return to her regular job. Id.
3. Dr. Salman Bashir (October 2008)
Based on Dr. Mirani's recommendation, Dr. Salman Bashir (" Dr. Bashir" ) conducted an MRI of Patterson's lumbar spine in October 2008. Id. at 252-53, 433-34. The MRI report stated that there was no disc herniation or significant disc disease, but it revealed minimal disc bulging at L5-S1. Id.
4. Dr. Ajit Mirani (January 2009)
At Dr. Mirani's recommendation, an MRI of the hip was performed in January 2009, which revealed no discrete abnormalities. Id. at 309-10.
5. Dr. Parakrama Ananta(March 2009)
Dr. Parakrama Ananta (" Dr. Ananta" ) examined Patterson in March 2009 and concluded that clinical examination was suggestive of right sacroiliac joint dysfunction. Id. at 244. He suggested physical therapy directed towards joint mobilization, sacral stabilization, and pelvic stabilization exercises. Id. If the symptoms continued to persist, he recommended that Patterson consider the possibility of diagnostic and therapeutic right sacroiliac joint injection. Id. at 245. Dr. Ananta also carried out nerve conduction studies and an EMG, all of which yielded normal results. Id. at 311.
6. Dr. Ajit Mirani (April - June 2009)
As per Dr. Mirani's advice, Patterson received two steroid injections in April and June 2009 for right hip pain. Id. at 316, 318.
7. Dr. Richard Smith (August 2009)
In August 2009, Dr. Richard Smith (" Dr. Smith" ) saw Patterson and reviewed the results of the MRIs of her hips and her spine. Id. at 228. Following his exam, Dr. Smith wrote that " it is more of a soft tissue etiology with pelvic imbalance situation here, [and that there is] low back strain with secondary decompensation." Id. Dr. Smith felt that there was nothing surgical that could be done. Id. Dr. Smith recommended keeping her out of work, and starting with some physical therapy and core rehabilitation. Id.
8. Dr. Ajit Mirani (October 2009)
In October 2009, Patterson told Dr. Mirani that taking Norflex 100 mg twice a day and Nucynta 50 mg four times a day made her life manageable, although she still remained unable to work due to the injury. Id. at 324.
9. Dr. Ajit Mirani (February 2010)
Patterson informed Dr. Mirani during a follow-up call that she has better pain control with 100 mg of Nucynta, four times a day, as compared to what she was getting with the 50 mg dosage, and that she is able to function with the medication without side effects. Id. at 332.
10. Dr. Michael Merport (February 2010)
Dr. Michael Merport (" Dr. Merport" ) conducted an MRI of the lumbar spine in February 2010. Id. at 251. The MRI revealed minimal circumferential bulging of the disc at L5-S1, which was unchanged since 2008. Id. at 251-52.
11. Dr. Mark Palumbo (August 2010 - January 2011)
Dr. Mark Palumbo (" Dr. Palumbo" ) performed a sacroiliac arthrodesis on Patterson in August 2010. See id., at 351-52. Patterson visited Dr. Palumbo for multiple follow-up visits between August 2010 and January 2011. Id. at 353-57. During a follow-up visit on October 13, 2010, Dr. Palumbo noted that he was growing less optimistic because she was not showing any improvement, and he concluded that she remains temporarily totally disabled from work. Id. at 354. During a follow-up on January 19, 2011, Dr. Palumbo opined that she was permanently disabled from her usual occupation as a certified nursing assistant. Id. at 356. He further observed that Patterson would be incapable of work which requires any type of significant physical labor or activity. Id.
12. Dr. Ajit Mirani (November 2010 - January 2011)
In November 2010, Dr. Mirani felt Patterson may eventually need a spinal cord simulator since she did not respond to the surgery. Id. at 260. At a follow-up appointment in January 2011, Dr. Mirani noted that Patterson was able to use a walker for short distances, ...