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Flammia v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

August 8, 2016

RICHARD F. FLAMMIA, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION ON PLAINTIFF RICHARD FLAMMIA'S MOTION FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS; AND ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR AN ORDER AFFIRMING THE DECISION OF THE ALJ (DKT. NOS. 10, 13)

          DONALD L. CABELL, U.S.M.J.

         Plaintiff Richard Flammia (“Flammia” or “the plaintiff”) moves to reverse or remand a final decision by the Commissioner of Social Security (“the Commissioner”) denying his application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). The Commissioner cross-moves to affirm its decision. (Dkt. Nos. 10, 13). As discussed below, I recommend that the Commissioner's motion to affirm be granted and that the motion for judgment on the pleadings seeking to reverse the Commissioner's decision be denied.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On June 7, 2013, the Plaintiff filed an application for DIB under Title II of the Social Security Act. (Dkt. No. 7; Social Security Administration Record of Social Security Proceedings, at page 226 [hereinafter “(R. ___)”]. The plaintiff suffers from anxiety and irritable bowel syndrome (“IBS”) and claims that he has been disabled since December 17, 2012. (R. 225).

         On October 15, 2013, the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) determined that the plaintiff was not disabled during the relevant period and therefore was not entitled to DIB. (R. 158). On January 31, 2014, the SSA affirmed its determination after reconsideration. (R. 161).

         The plaintiff requested an administrative hearing and received one before Administrative Law Judge Paul W. Goodale (“the ALJ”), on January 22, 2015. (R. 64 - 128). On April 9, 2015, the ALJ determined in a written decision that the plaintiff was not disabled, and was therefore ineligible for DIB. (R. 42-56). On August 11, 2015, the Appeals Council denied the plaintiff's request for a review of the ALJ's decision, making it the final decision of the Commissioner. (R. 1-4).

         The plaintiff then filed this action on October 9, 2015.

         II. FACTS

         a. Personal and Employment History

         The plaintiff was born on April 27, 1964, and was 48 years old at the time of the alleged onset of his disability in 2012. (R. 224). He is a high school graduate and has completed some college level coursework. (R. 48). The plaintiff's past relevant work includes positions as a bank operations manager, a mailroom clerk, a shipping/receiving clerk, and a liquor store manager. (R. 54).

         b. The Treating Physicians' Opinions

         The plaintiff has seen two physicians for treatment for his conditions, including Dr. Daniel Trutt and Dr. Bennet Tittler. Both agree that the plaintiff suffers from IBS and anxiety. (R. 395, 417, 470).

         Dr. Trutt, the plaintiff's primary care physician, began seeing him in 2012. Dr. Trutt noted that the plaintiff had been taking “benzos” medication for his anxiety since the age of 23. In addition to that medication Dr. Trutt prescribed the plaintiff valium for his anxiety, and Flexeril, Tramadol, and Bentyl for his IBS. (R. 389, 390, 394). In December 2012 Dr. Trutt increased the plaintiff's valium dose to up to six times a day to address increased stress and anxiety the plaintiff was experiencing from being laid off from his job. (R. 384).

         As of April 2013 Dr. Trutt continued to prescribe the plaintiff the increased 6X a day dosage of valium to treat his anxiety, but made no changes to the plaintiff's medication for IBS. (R. 382). Even so, though, the plaintiff stated that he felt completely overwhelmed and unable to work. (R. 381).

         In May 2013 the plaintiff began seeing Dr. Tittler for psychological treatment. In June 2013 he told Dr. Tittler that he had acute anxiety trending towards agoraphobia because he did not want to stray too far from a bathroom in light of his IBS. (R. 411).

         In August 2013 Dr. Trutt noted that the increased valium dosage was helping the plaintiff, although the plaintiff's anxiety still prevented him from sustaining employment. (R. 435). Dr. Trutt also noted that the plaintiff got along fine with other people and could travel independently outside. Dr. Trutt saw no evidence of memory, concentration, or attention deficits. Id.

         In September 2013 Dr. Tittler diagnosed the plaintiff with generalized anxiety disorder and major depressive disorder in the context of chronic IBS. (R. 403). Dr. Tittler also assessed a Global Assessment of Functioning (“GAF”) of 52, which was indicative of moderate psychiatric symptoms and limitations in social, occupational, or school functioning. Id. Dr. Tittler additionally concluded that the plaintiff had a number of marked limitations in several areas. Dr. Tittler determined the plaintiff's prognosis to be poor and encouraged him to pursue a disability determination. (R. 413).

         In October 2013 Dr. Trutt considered the plaintiff's prognosis for anxiety to be guarded but opined that his anxiety symptoms would increase in a competitive work environment. He did not change the plaintiff's valium dosage. (R. 433).

         In April 2014 the plaintiff reported to Dr. Trutt that he'd run out of valium prior to the visit, and had experienced increased anxiety which had in turn exacerbated his IBS symptoms. (R. 463). Dr. Trutt continued ...


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