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Woodie v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

June 2, 2016

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




         This is an action by Pamela J. Woodie ("Woodie") 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 December 9, 2011, Woodie filed a Title II application for disability insurance benefits, alleging that her disability began on November 22, 2011. Administrative R. ("Admin. R.") 90- 91, ECF No. 9.[1] The claim was denied on April 18, 2012, and upon reconsideration, was denied again on September 28, 2012. Id. at 90, 105. Woodie then filed a written request for a hearing, which was held on October 22, 2013, before an Administrative Law Judge (the "hearing officer").[2] Id. at 17, 36.

         The hearing officer denied Woodie’s claim for benefits, in a written decision issued on November 27, 2013. Id. at 28-29. On January 7, 2014, Woodie filed a request to have the hearing officer’s decision reviewed by the Appeals Council. Id. at 13. At that time, Woodie supplemented her medical record with additional medical information from treating physicians. See id. at 2, 13. The hearing officer’s decision was upheld by the Appeals Council on February 18, 2015.[3] Id. at 1-3.

         On April 22, 2015, Woodie filed a complaint seeking this Court’s review of the Commissioner’s decision pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Compl., ECF No. 1. The Commissioner filed the Administrative Record on July 13, 2015. Admin. R. In the following months, both parties filed motions -- Woodie, to reverse; the Commissioner, to affirm -- and accompanying memoranda. See Pl.’s Mot. Reverse Decision Comm’r, ECF No. 13; Pl.’s Mem. Supp. Mot. Reverse Decision Comm’r ("Pl.’s Mem."), ECF No. 14; Mot. Order Affirming Decision Comm’r, ECF No. 18; Mem. Law Supp. Def.’s Mot. Affirm Comm’r. Decision ("Def.’s Mem."), ECF No. 19; Pl.’s Reply Def.’s Mot. Affirm Decision Comm’r ("Pl.’s Reply"), ECF No. 20.

         B. Factual Background

         As Woodie challenges only the hearing officer’s step-five determination, see Pl.’s Mem. 9, this section recounts only the background facts, as provided by Woodie’s testimony, and a brief overview of Woodie’s medical records. As the testimony of the vocational expert ("VE") who was called in this case is directly relevant to Woodie’s claims, it is discussed infra Part IV.

         1. Woodie’s Testimony

         Woodie was born on July 28, 1966. Admin. R. 41. On August 21, 2009, Woodie was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis ("MS"). Id. at 465. She has also been diagnosed with Lyme disease, which has made symptoms of MS, such as fatigue, especially difficult to manage. Id. Woodie uses a cane to help her walk and balance. Id. at 51. She has issues with anxiety, migraine headaches, and sleeplessness. Id. Woodie described having difficulties when lifting or gripping objects: "I can’t lift a gallon of milk . . . [i]f I lift the keys up and stuff they will fall out of my hands at times." Id. at 63.

         Prior to November 21, 2011, when Woodie stopped working, she had been employed as an auto parts deliverer, secretary, receptionist, and cashier. Id. at 27, 200. She lives with her two daughters, who are in middle school and high school. Id. at 57, 65. They are generally responsible for completing household chores and preparing meals. Id. at 58-59. Woodie performs only a minimal amount of driving, and has "somebody that takes me to all my appointments[.]" Id. at 60. Her time is generally spent on her computer, watching television, or reading a magazine, but her activities vary depending on her symptoms. Id. at 61.

         2. Medical Records and Opinions

         Woodie submitted medical reports and treatment records dating back to January 2009, when she first began complaining of headaches. Admin. R. 309-525. The Social Security Administration ("SSA") obtained Woodie’s physical and mental Residual Functioning Capacity ("RFC") assessments from the Massachusetts Disability Determination Services office. Id. at 90, 105.

         The medical records describe Woodie’s headaches, which initially were thought to be "migraine headaches with aura and tension-type headaches, " id. at 301. Subsequent testing revealed the presence of three brain lesions. Id. at 270-271. After being diagnosed with MS, Woodie began treatment for mood and anxiety disorders, which were interpreted as psychological consequence of her MS diagnosis. Id. at 593. In July 2012, after experiencing severe aching, fatigue, and flu-like symptoms, Woodie took a blood test, which confirmed that Woodie had contracted Lyme Disease. Id. at 557, 564-566.

         II. The Hearing ...

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