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Mazonson v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

November 15, 2016

CAROLYN COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         Plaintiff Teri Mazonson (“Ms. Mazonson” or “Claimant”) brings this action pursuant to section 205(g) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), challenging the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the “Commissioner”) denying her claim for Social Security Disability Insurance (“SSDI”) benefits. Currently pending is Ms. Mazonson's motion to reverse the Commissioner's decision denying her disability benefits [ECF No. 15]. For the reasons described herein, the Court finds that, although the ALJ failed to comply with the requirement of SSR 83-20 to have a medical advisor testify regarding the date of onset, the error in this case was harmless. Therefore, the Court DENIES Ms. Mazonson's motion to reverse and remand.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Statutory and Regulatory Framework: Five-Step Process to Evaluate Disability Claims

         “The Social Security Administration is the federal agency charged with administering both the Social Security disability benefits program, which provides disability insurance for covered workers, and the Supplemental Security Income program, which provides assistance for the indigent aged and disabled.” Seavey v. Barnhart, 276 F.3d 1, 5 (1st Cir. 2001) (citing 42 U.S.C. §§ 423, 1381a).

         The Social Security Act (the “Act”) provides that an individual shall be considered to be “disabled” if he or she is:

unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or that has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than twelve months.

42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A); see also 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). The disability must be severe, such that the claimant is unable to do his or her previous work or any other substantial gainful activity that exists in the national economy. See 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B); 20 C.F.R. § 416.905.

         When evaluating a disability claim under the Act, the Commissioner uses a five-step process, which the First Circuit has explained as follows:

All five steps are not applied to every applicant, as the determination may be concluded at any step along the process. The steps are: 1) if the applicant is engaged in substantial gainful work activity, the application is denied; 2) if the applicant does not have, or has not had within the relevant time period, a severe impairment or combination of impairments, the application is denied; 3) if the impairment meets the conditions for one of the “listed” impairments in the Social Security regulations, then the application is granted; 4) if the applicant's “residual functional capacity” is such that he or she can still perform past relevant work, then the application is denied; 5) if the applicant, given his or her residual functional capacity, education, work experience, and age, is unable to do any other work, the application is granted.

Seavey, 276 F.3d at 5 (citing 20 C.F.R. § 416.920).

         B. Procedural Background

         Ms. Mazonson filed her application for SSDI benefits on June 21, 2012. [R. 111].[1] She alleged that she became disabled on December 1, 2007, due to multiple sclerosis and depression. [R. 124]. Her date last insured was December 31, 2007. [R. 121].

         The Social Security Administration (the “SSA”) denied Ms. Mazonson's application for SSDI benefits on August 14, 2012, and again upon reconsideration on November 1, 2012. [R. 54, 65]. Thereafter, Ms. Mazonson requested an administrative hearing [R. 74], and a hearing took place before Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Stephen C. Fulton on October 29, 2013. [R. 21]. Ms. Mazonson, who was represented by counsel, appeared and testified at the hearing. [R. 21- 22]. On December 26, 2013, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Ms. Mazonson was not disabled. [R. 7]. The SSA Appeals Council denied Ms. Mazonson's Request for Review on May 14, 2015 [R. 1]. On July 19, 2015, Ms. Mazonson filed a timely complaint with this Court, seeking review of the Commissioner's decision pursuant to section 205(g) of the Act. [ECF No. 1].

         C. Factual Background

         Ms. Mazonson was born on July 22, 1972. [R. 111]. She has been married to Adam Mazonson since 1999, and they have two children. [R. 112]. Ms. Mazonson currently lives in Canton, Massachusetts. [ECF No. 1]. She has a college degree and a law degree. [R. 23-25].

         Ms. Mazonson worked as a lawyer from approximately 1998-2000, and then as a consulting real estate lawyer in approximately 2003. [R. 132]. She briefly operated a day care business in approximately 2005. [R. 36, 132]. She also worked for the Town of Canton as a substitute teacher and a children's librarian in 2010 and 2011. [R. 28, 132].

         D. Medical Evidence

         1.Prior to the Expiration of Claimant's Insured Status

         The medical evidence submitted by Ms. Mazonson begins in August 1996, when she sought treatment after tripping over a blanket while walking down the stairs. [R. 222]. Ms. Mazonson presented at New England Baptist Medical Center with pain and severe swelling in her right ankle. Id. After imaging studies ruled out the possibility of dislocation or fracture, Ms. Mazonson was discharged to outpatient care. Id. On November 28, 1999, Ms. Mazonson was admitted to the same hospital with complaints of a severe headache. ...

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