United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
ADA H. MANTILLA, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner, Social Security Administration Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON PLAINTIFF’S MOTION TO
REVERSE AND DEFENDANT’S MOTION TO AFFIRM THE DECISION
OF THE COMMISSIONER
Dennis Saylor IV United States District Judge
an appeal of a final decision by the Commissioner of the
Social Security Administration denying plaintiff’s
second application for Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”) benefits. Although the Social Security
Administration granted plaintiff’s subsequent third
application for SSI benefits, she seeks to have the earlier
decision vacated and remanded to establish an earlier onset
date for her disability. She appeals the Commissioner’s
denial of her second application on the grounds that the
Administrative Law Judge’s “Step 5” finding
and the denial of her application were erroneous.
Specifically, she contends that the Administrative Law Judge
(1) should have been bound by a prior determination of her
residual functional capacity and (2) improperly relied on a
vocational witness’s testimony.
has moved to reverse the decision of the Commissioner and
defendant has cross-moved to affirm the decision. For the
reasons stated below, the decision of the Commissioner will
Mantilla filed her first application for SSI benefits on
December 16, 2008. That application was denied on April 14,
2011, and the Appeals Council upheld the denial of benefits
on August 25, 2011.
second application for SSI, which is at issue in this case,
was filed on September 20, 2011. It alleged a disability
onset date of June 1, 2001. That application was denied on
February 22, 2012, and again on January 2, 2013, upon
rehearing. On January 23, 2013, she requested a hearing, and
on October 22, she amended her disability onset date to
September 20, 2011. The hearing was held on October 31, 2013.
She submitted a post-hearing brief, in which she raised an
objection to the hypothetical posed to the vocational expert
regarding her residual functional capacity assessment. On
December 26, 2013, the ALJ overruled the objection and denied
filed a third application, which was ultimately granted. She
now appeals the denial of the second application in order to
establish an earlier onset date for her disability.
Mantilla was born on November 4, 1961. She was 49 years old
when she filed the present application on September 20, 2011.
She has “limited education.” (R. at 36). Before
filing her application for SSI benefits, Mantilla had worked
as a cashier, a clothes hanger, and a substitute cafeteria
worker. (R. at 116). After filing for SSI benefits, she
reported being able to cook, take care of her four-year-old
grandson, and attend to her own personal hygiene. (R. at 27).
April 2011, the ALJ who handled Mantilla’s first SSI
application found that she had four severe impairments:
chronic knee pain, chronic back pain, depression, and
anxiety. (R. at 112). In December 2013, the ALJ who handled
her second application also found four severe impairments:
osteoarthritis, subjective arthralgias, depression, and
anxiety. At that time, the ALJ also found that she had been
treated for an ankle impairment, bradycardia, tendinitis, and
obsessive-compulsive disorder, but found that those
conditions were not severe.
saw her primary-care provider for bilateral knee pain in July
2010, and was given non-narcotic pain medication. (R. at 28).
She saw the same doctor in August 2011 for pain in her left
ankle; the doctor found that there was tenderness in the
ankle, but no swelling, and that she had a full range of
motion in the ankle and a normal gait. (Id.). In
November 2011, she saw a different doctor and reported a
history of low back pain and bilateral knee pain. At the
time, she was not taking pain medication. (Id.). For
about three months starting in November 2011, a chiropractor
treated her for back, neck, and leg pain. (Id.).
saw Nurse Practitioner Kristin Proverb in December 2011,
reporting that she felt bilateral knee pain and that both of
her knees were giving way. (Id.). She also reported
that she had been seeing a chiropractor regarding aches in
her upper body. (Id.). Nurse Proverb found that
Mantilla had a normal gait and full range of motion in the
hips, knees, and ankles, but also that she had a slight
effusion on the right knee, “moderate crepitus over the
right patella with knee flexion and extension, minimal over
the left knee, ” and “discrete pain with patella
compression with weakness of the VMO musculature
bilaterally.” (R. at 29). She was also found to have
“end-stage patellofemoral osteoarthritis of the right
knee and moderate osteoarthritis of the patellofemoral of the
left knee” on x-rays. (Id.). She went to
physical therapy three times after that appointment.
saw an orthopedic specialist in October 2012 for knee pain.
(Id.). At that time, the specialist found tenderness
in both knees and slight crepitus on the right knee.
(Id.). He also found bilateral grind and inhibition.
(R. at 30). The results of x-rays “were consistent with
patellofemoral arthrosis and osteophystic changes.”
(Id.). She was prescribed medication and referred to
physical therapy, which she attended twice. (Id.).
Follow-up examinations in January and May 2013 continued to
show the same results. (Id.). At another follow-up
examination in July 2013, she had increased tenderness in her
left knee and reduced internal rotation of her hips.
(Id.). She was again referred to physical therapy,
which she attended twice. (Id.).
January 2011, Mantilla went to Arbor Counseling for an
initial evaluation of her mental status. She was assessed
with major depressive disorder with moderate symptoms. (R. at
32). At a follow-up visit in August 2011, it was determined
that while she was taking medications she did not show
anxiety, depression, or sleep problems, and that her
depressive symptoms were stable. (R. at 33). At some point in
October 2011, she stopped taking her medications. In November
2011, a registered nurse diagnosed depressive disorder,
prescribed medication, and instructed her to continue
February 2012, a psychologist again diagnosed depressive
disorder with moderate symptoms. At a follow-up examination
in April 2012, the psychologist found that the compulsive
hand washing she had experienced had decreased and that she
was calmer than she had been at her examination in February,
but she also reported some panic attacks. (R. at 34). In
April 2012, her primary-care provider concluded that she was
under a lot of stress and not eating well, which may have
contributed to weight loss. She had follow-up appointments in
May, June, and July 2012, at which her mental symptoms were
stable. At a counselling appointment in July 2012, she
displayed fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety, ...