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Prescott v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

January 27, 2017

ALLISON PRESCOTT, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON CROSS-MOTIONS REGARDING DENIAL OF SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFITS

          Leo T. Sorokin United States District Judge

         Allison Prescott brought this action pursuant to section 205(g) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g)(3), challenging the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”) denying her claim for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) benefits. The matter is presently before this Court on the Prescott's Motion to Reverse, Doc. No. 16, and the Defendant's Motion to Affirm the Commissioner's Decision, Doc. No. 22.

         At issue is whether the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in rendering his assessment of Prescott's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) by improperly weighing the opinions of the medical professionals and whether the ALJ committed reversible error by relying on the testimony of a vocational expert whose opinion was, according to Prescott, based upon an improperly formulated RFC, while ignoring a contrary opinion from a second vocational expert.

         For the reasons detailed below, this Court DENIES Prescott's Motion to Reverse, Doc. No. 16, and ALLOWS the Defendant's Motion to Affirm, Doc. No. 22. .

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Allison Prescott, who is currently 45 years old (born October 8, 1970), submitted applications for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits (Title II), as well supplemental security income (Title XVI) on July 20, 2012. R. at 165-66.[1] Ms. Prescott's claims were denied initially on December 13, 2012, and upon reconsideration on April 2, 2013. R. at 14. Following her timely written request, a hearing was held before ALJ Sean Teehan on January 28, 2014. R. at 37-114. A supplemental hearing was held on April 30, 2014.

         On May 30, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision denying Prescott's claims. R. at 14-30. On July 27, 2015, the Appeals Council denied Prescott's request for further review. R. at 1-6. Prescott has exhausted her administrative remedies and now seeks judicial review by this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         FACTUAL HISTORY

         Prescott was 37 years old on her alleged onset date. R. at 294. Prescott alleged disability due to diabetes, back injury, dysrhythmia, post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”), anxiety disorder, arthritis, depression, asthma, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and migraines. R. at 342. Prescott had past relevant employment as a photo lab supervisor at CVS Pharmacy. R. at 350. Since as early as 2008, and at all relevant times, Prescott was seen by her treating physician, Dr. Margaret-Mary Williams, for issues related to Type II diabetes and conditions related to her diabetes, including neuropathy in the upper and lower limbs. She was also seen for complaints relating to asthma, back pain, blurred vision, migraines, joint pain, trouble walking, and numbness in her hands and feet.

         Prescott testified that on a typical day, she rises at 9:30 am and has coffee and cereal and then usually plays on the computer, checks her email, watches television, putters around the house, and makes her bed. R. at 66-67. She stated that she goes to church services and bible study once per week. R. at 68. She also goes to the grocery store once or twice per week, cooks dinner for her family and does the dishes afterwards, and washes her own laundry. R. at 72. She testified that she keeps the kitchen clean and vacuums on the weekends. R. at 73.

         A. Medical Evidence

         The medical evidence is set forth in the Commissioner's memorandum, Doc. No. 23, the recitation of which Prescott does not dispute.

         On June 11, 2008, Prescott visited Dr. Williams for blood pressure and diabetes care. R. at 500. A general examination was normal. R. at 501. The doctor characterized Prescott's diabetes as “uncontrolled” and recommended diet, exercise, and weight loss. Id. Prescott's blood pressure and cholesterol labs were acceptable and her asthma was stable. R. 502.

         On October 8, 2008, Prescott visited Dr. Williams for a check of blood pressure and diabetes. R. at 494. She told the doctor that she was doing okay and was looking for work. Id. Her general exam was normal and her diabetes continued to be uncontrolled. Id. Her cholesterol and blood pressure levels were acceptable. R. at 496.

         On January 1, 2009, Prescott visited Dr. Williams; her diabetes remained uncontrolled, and the doctor stressed the importance of trying to get back on a better diet. R. at 492. On May 19, 2009, Prescott visited Dr. Williams for a blood pressure and diabetes check. R. at 488. She stated that she was still looking for a job and recently had two interviews for administrative positions. Id. A general exam was normal. R. at 489. The doctor added a new diabetes medication and increased medication for blood pressure. Id.

         On November 23, 2009, Prescott visited Dr. Williams for treatment of diabetes. R. at 486-87. Prescott's asthma was clinically stable and her general exam was normal. Id.

         On March 6, 2010, Dr. Williams noted that Prescott's diabetes was not under good control. R. at 483. She encouraged Prescott to work on diet, exercise, and weight loss. Id. On June 16, 2010, Prescott visited Dr. Williams, who noted a normal general exam. R. at 480. The doctor increased Prescott's dose of diabetes medication and encouraged Prescott to get back on track with diet and exercise. Id.

         On September 2, 2010, Prescott visited Dr. Williams and stated that her ongoing back problems were the main source of her disability. R. at 476. She also reported weakness and numbness of the hands. Id. Upon examination, her back was normal and straight, with some tenderness to palpation. R. at 477. She had a slightly decreased range of motion of the spine, with mild pain. Id. The doctor told Prescott to consider physical therapy. R. at 478.

         On September 30, 2010, Prescott underwent EMG testing with Dr. Ackil. R. at 644-45. The doctor found evidence of moderate motor sensory neuropathy in the upper and lower limbs, mild bilateral radiculopathy, and mild carpal tunnel syndrome. R. at 645.

         On October 27, 2010, Prescott visited Dr. Williams for a routine medical exam. R. at 472-74. Her spine was normal with no tenderness, she had no swelling in the extremities, her hands and feet were normal, she had 5/5 strength in all extremities, and her gait was normal. R. at 474. An EMG revealed upper and lower neuropathy, and Prescott started on Gabapentin. Id.

         On December 3, 2010, Prescott visited Dr. Williams and stated that her leg pain had lessened since starting Gabapentin. R. at 469. She had no swelling in the extremities and her gait was normal. R. at 470. Dr. Williams expressed concerns about Prescott's weight and said that if her diabetes did not come under better control, she would need a specialist. R. at 471.

         On March 7, 2011, Prescott visited Dr. Williams and complained of sharp chest pain and heartburn. R. at 466. Dr. Williams increased her diabetes medications and discussed seeing an endocrinologist for more in-depth care. R. at 468. Dr. Williams diagnosed hyperlipidemia and indicated that if Prescott continued to gain weight, she may need a second cholesterol medication. Id.

         On April 5, 2011, Prescott visited Dr. Howard Fogel at the Diabetes Center of New England for an initial evaluation. R. at 426-27. She complained of occasional blurred vision, but Dr. Fogel noted that she was negative for retinopathy upon exam. R. at 426. He indicated that she was positive for symptoms of neuropathy, with complaints of numbness in the feet, although she displayed intact pulses, sensation, and motor function in both feet. Id. Her glucose panel and liver studies were normal. Id. Dr. Fogel recommended appropriate meal plans, exercise, weight loss, and a change in medication. Id.

         On June 16, 2011, an x-ray of Prescott's spine revealed questionable spinal stenosis at ¶ 4/L5, mild-to-moderate degenerative disc disease (more prominent than prior study), and no acute bony findings. R. 7at 01.

         On December 20, 2011, Prescott visited Dr. Williams and complained of joint pain in the right knee, hip, and hands. R. at 457. She had no edema, redness, or swelling of the extremities and displayed a good range of motion and a normal gait. Id. As to diabetes, the doctor urged her to work harder on diet and weight loss efforts; as to joint pain, the doctor recommended Tylenol, rest, and heat. R. at 459.

         On June 20, 2011, Prescott visited Dr. Williams and complained of acute pain in the lower rib cage. R. at 463. Upon exam, Prescott had tenderness over the ribcage. no swelling in the extremities. and a normal gait. R. at 464. The doctor characterized Prescott's diabetes as “uncontrolled” and emphasized the importance of taking her medications, checking blood sugar frequently, and working on diet and exercise. R. at 465.

         On March 5, 2012, Prescott visited Dr. Williams for ongoing back and musculoskeletal issues. R. at 453. She also complained of joint pain in her hands and fingers, knee pain, trouble walking, numbness in the hands and feet, and headaches related to stress. R. at 453. Upon exam, Prescott had no actively or acutely inflamed joints. Id. The doctor noted that Prescott's diabetes did not seem well controlled and emphasized the importance of getting on track with diet and weight loss. Id.

         On August 31, 2012, Prescott visited Dr. Fogel for diabetes care, complaining of numbness in her feet. R. at 668. The doctor described her diabetes control as “fair” Id.

         On October 25, 2012, Prescott visited Dr. Williams to have disability forms filled out. R. at 726. She complained of chronic back pain; numbness in her legs; the inability to lift; chronic numbness in the hands and feet; and problems balancing. Id. Upon examination, her gait was within normal limits, but slowed due to complaints of pain. R. at 728. Dr. Williams noted that diabetic neuropathy was likely starting to affect her gait. Id. Her back was normal, with no spinal tenderness, although she displayed tenderness to palpitation over the paraspinous muscle groups and decreased range of motion of the spine due to pain. Id. A neurological exam ...


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