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McNelley v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

May 29, 2015



RICHARD G. STEARNS, District Judge.

William Patrick McNelley seeks review of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (SSA) adopting an Administrative Law Judge's (ALJ) determination that McNelley is not disabled as defined by the implementing regulations of the Social Security Act (SSA). See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(f). The Commissioner determined that while McNelley is unable to work at any of his prior occupations, he is able to perform less physically demanding work. In seeking to overturn the Commissioner's decision, McNelley contends that the ALJ failed to properly weigh the medical evidence and unfairly evaluated McNelley's credibility. McNelley's petition to the district court is brought as a matter right pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), after his application, motion for reconsideration, and request for review by the Appeals Council were successively denied.


On April 30, 2012, McNelley applied for Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB), claiming an inability to work because of recurring anxiety with panic attacks and agoraphobia since January 1, 2009.[1] The application was denied initially and after reconsideration. On October 18, 2013, ALJ Paul W. Goodale heard testimony from McNelley and from James Cohen, a courtappointed vocational expert (VE). The ALJ issued his decision, unfavorable to McNelley, on December 27, 2013. After the Appeals Council denied McNelley's request for review on October 14, 2014, by operation of law the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner.

McNelley was born on February 19, 1965. He is a high school graduate, has a certificate in computer proficiency, and is able to communicate in English. McNelley had previously worked as a machinery operator, machine feeder, roofer, utility worker, forklift operator, and motel/hotel desk manager.

For the most part, McNelley lives a solitary life at home. He watches television, prepares his meals, keeps doctor's appointments, and does his own shopping. McNelley testified that, because of his anxiety, he often "freezes" and is unable to leave his house, avoids crowds, has difficulty sleeping, and is unable to work. Transcript (Tr.) at 107.

Medical Evidence

McNelley alleges that he became disabled on February 15, 2010, but did not seek treatment until April 4, 2012, when he presented to the emergency room at Whidden Hospital. At Whidden, he was prescribed Xanax, a benzodiazepine derivative used to alleviate feelings of anxiety. After this initial hospital visit, McNelley treated with a number of mental health professionals. On April 7, 2012, McNelley was seen by Dr. Jeffrey Phillips, a family practitioner, who prescribed Zoloft, another anti-anxiety drug. On April 18, 2012, McNelley returned to Whidden's emergency room asking for more medication. Dr. Phillips followed up with McNelley on April 20, 2012, diagnosing him with social anxiety disorder and prescribing yet another antianxiety drug, Celexa. On April 24, 2012, after an examination, Peter McEntee, a licensed clinical social worker, diagnosed McNelley with panic disorder with agoraphobia.

On July 9, 2012, Dr. Ronit Dedesma, a treating psychiatrist at Cambridge Health Alliance, also diagnosed McNelley with panic disorder with agoraphobia. McNelley testified that he experiences panic attacks five to six days a week and that they are especially severe an average of three times a week. Id. at 118. Dr. Dedesma opined that McNelley's disability "markedly" limits his ability to perform scheduled activities, keep regular job attendance, sustain ordinary daily routine without supervision, and complete a normal workweek. Id. at 609-610. She later opined that McNelley's panic disorder with agoraphobia had "progressed to a somewhat paralyzing point." Id. at 617.

Over time, McNelley has been prescribed a number of anti-anxiety medications, including Xanax, Celexa, Clonazepam, Remeron, Effexor, and Atarax. Between April of 2012 and September of 2013, McNelley's Global Assessment of Functioning (GAF) scores ranged from 50 to 55.[2] McNelley's reported symptoms include worry, fidgeting, racing thoughts, decreased concentration, shakiness, feelings of apprehension, pressure in his chest, shortness of breath, dry mouth, anger, and nausea. McNelley's primary symptoms are panic attacks, avoidance, and general worry.


The ALJ made the following written findings of fact and conclusions of law:

1. The claimant meets the insured status requirements of the SSA through March 31, 2015.

2. The claimant has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since February 15, 2010, the ...

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