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Dupras v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

March 4, 2016

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.


George A. O’Toole, Jr. United States District Judge

I. Introduction

The plaintiff, Jennifer Lynn Dupras, appeals the denial of her applications for Social Security Disability (“SSD”) benefits and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) benefits by the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”). Dupras applied for SSD and SSI benefits during July and August 2011, alleging disability since October 1, 2008.[1] (Administrative Tr. at 17, 420 [hereinafter R.].)[2] Dupras’ applications for Social Security benefits were denied at the initial level of review on December 23, 2011, and upon reconsideration on June 3, 2012. (Id. at 16-17.) On July 31, 2012, Dupras requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (Id. at 17.)

The hearing before the ALJ took place on July 11, 2013. (Id. at 26.) Dupras was represented at the hearing by an attorney. (Id. at 17.) At the hearing Dupras, her husband, and a vocational expert provided oral testimony. (Id.) On August 6, 2013, the ALJ issued a written decision finding that Dupras (1) was not disabled under Sections 216(i) and 223(d) of the Social Security Act and therefore not entitled to collect SSD benefits and (2) was not disabled under Section 1614(a)(3)(A) of the Social Security Act and therefore not entitled to collect SSI benefits. (R. at 30.)

On September 16, 2013, Dupras requested that the Social Security Administration Appeals Council review the ALJ’s decision. (Id. at 11.) The Appeals Council denied Dupras’ request for review on August 25, 2014. (Id. at 8.) Having exhausted her administrative remedies, Dupras filed this action.

Before the Court is Dupras’ Motion for Judgment (dkt. no. 15) reversing the Commissioner’s decision and the government’s Motion for Order Affirming the Decision of the Commissioner (dkt. no. 19). I affirm the Commissioner’s decision because there was substantial evidence in the administrative record to support it and there was no error of law.

II. Background

Dupras was thirty-one years old when the ALJ rendered his final decision. (R. at 437.) Her formal education went as far as completing the eighth grade. (Id. at 26, 447-48.) Prior to the alleged onset of the disability, Dupras worked various jobs, including: cashier at several donut shops, bank teller, bartender, reservations agent for hotels, and clothing tagger at a retail store. (Id. at 26, 133.) Dupras alleges that bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”), anxiety, and attention deficit disorder (“ADD”) prevent her from working and make it difficult for her to be around people or go out in public. (Id. at 26.)

A. Medical and Treatment History

According to the record, Dupras has or had prescriptions for various medications, including Trazadone (to manage bipolar disorder and mood), Ropinirole (to address restless twitching of hands and legs), Alprazolam (to manage bipolar disorder and anxiety), Methylphenidate (to manage ADD), Citalopram (for mood stabilization), and Suboxone (to help prevent opioid abuse). (Id. at 184.) Dupras also had a prior history of substance abuse, which was deemed immaterial by the ALJ after review of the medical reports. (See id. at 25.)

i. Dupras Self-Assessment

At the hearing before the ALJ, Dupras provided testimony about her past, her symptoms, and her day-to-day life. Dupras told the ALJ she is hesitant to be in crowds or around others, and that she experiences racing thoughts; poor concentration, focus and attention; and difficulty sleeping. (Id. at 446-47, 449, 454-55.) Dupras testified that she is unable to read, drive a car, or watch television because of an inability to concentrate for more than five minutes at a time. (Id. at 449, 453, 458.) Dupras said she has difficulty completing tasks she starts. (Id. at 454-55.) She does not participate in any community events and did not express any interests or hobbies. (Id. at 453- 54.) In discussing her day-to-day life, Dupras said she stays in the house most of time, isolating herself in her room watching television. (Id. at 446-47, 455, 459.) She estimates leaving the house about once per week. (Id. at 447.) Dupras depends on her husband to do most of the chores, including grocery shopping, and to manage all of her appointments and reminders. (Id. at 447, 449-50, 469-70, 477.)

According to oral testimony given by her husband, Dupras depends on cell-phone alarms for reminders to take medications and maintain personal hygiene. (Id. at 469-70.) Medical treatments include periodic visits with psychiatrist Richard Sens as well as visits with various counselors in past years. (Id. at 450.) Dupras used cocaine from the ages of sixteen to twenty-seven. (Id. at 444.) She continues to undergo weekly, rather than monthly, urine tests by her own choice. (Id.) Dupras said she experiences PTSD symptoms, including frequent flashbacks (about twenty times per day), nightmares, and panic attacks (seven or eight times per day). (Id. at 446, 452.) She traced her PTSD symptoms to her father and ex-boyfriend having physically and mentally abused her. (Id. at 445.) She told the ALJ she was raped by her ex-boyfriend on multiple occasions after he drugged her with the prescription drug Seroquel. (Id.) Dupras discussed one occasion of suicidal thoughts. (Id. at 451.)

ii. Mark D. Sokol, Ed.D. Assessment[3]

In June 2009, Mark D. Sokol, Ed.D. conducted a consultative examination of Dupras. (Id. at 395.) During the examination Dr. Sokol found Dupras cooperative, well groomed, able to understand simple instructions, able to perform simple tasks under supervision, and with moderate impairment to maintaining attention, concentrating, and relating to others. (Id. at 396-98.) Dr. Sokol assigned Dupras a Global Assessment of ...

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