United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
MAUREEN S. GENEREUX, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
A. O'Toole, Jr. United States District Judge.
plaintiff, Maureen S. Genereux, appeals the denial of her
application for Social Security Disability Benefits
(“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”) by the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”). Before the Court are
Genereux's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (dkt. no.
12) and the Commissioner's Motion to Affirm the
Commissioner's Decision (dkt. no. 16). After
consideration of the administrative record and the
parties' memoranda, the Court now affirms the
Commissioner's decision because there is substantial
evidence in the administrative record to support the
plaintiff filed applications for DIB and SSI on March 7,
2012, and March 16, 2012, respectively, alleging disability
beginning February 15, 2012. (Administrative Tr. at 269-75,
276- 84 [hereinafter R.].) On June 15, 2012, Genereux's
applications were initially denied, (id. at 191-
92), and were denied again upon reconsideration on December
13, 2012. (Id. at 223-28.) She then requested a
hearing, (id. at 229-31), which was held before
Administrative Law Judge Henry J. Hogan (the
“ALJ”) on January 21, 2014. (Id. at
140-73.) On February 28, 2014, the ALJ issued an unfavorable
decision finding that Genereux was not disabled.
(Id. at 121-37.) Genereux requested review of the
ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council on April 8, 2014,
(id. 119-20), but the Appeals Council denied that
request on June 26, 2015. (Id. at 1-6.) This denial
rendered the ALJ's decision the final decision of the
Commissioner, making the case ripe for review by this Court
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3).
individual may seek judicial review of a final decision by
the Commissioner within sixty days of the decision. 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). Judicial review is restricted “to
determining whether the ALJ used the proper legal standards
and found facts upon the proper quantum of evidence.”
Ward v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 211 F.3d 652, 655
(1st Cir. 2000); accord Seavey v. Barnhart, 276 F.3d
1, 9 (1st Cir. 2001). A court will uphold an ALJ's
decision when it is supported by substantial evidence. 42
U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial evidence exists where
“a reasonable mind, reviewing the evidence in the
record as a whole, could accept it as adequate to support
[the ALJ's] conclusion.” Ortiz v. Sec'y of
Health & Human Servs., 955 F.2d 765, 769 (1st Cir.
1991) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). If
supported by substantial evidence, this Court must uphold the
Commissioner's decision “even if the record
arguably could justify a different conclusion, ”
Rodriguez Pagan v. Sec'y of Health & Human
Servs., 819 F.2d 1, 3 (1st Cir. 1987) (citing
Lizotte v. Sec'y of Health & Human
Servs., 654 F.2d 127, 128 (1st Cir. 1981)), for
“factual inferences, credibility determinations, and
resolutions of conflicts in the evidence are reserved to the
Commissioner.” Conte v. McMahon, 472 F.Supp.2d
39, 46 (D. Mass. 2007) (citing Ortiz, 955 F.2d at
769). Further, the ALJ may rely upon findings and opinions of
multiple physicians to determine medical facts.
Evangelista v. Sec'y of Health & Human
Servs., 826 F.2d 136, 144 (1st Cir. 1987).
Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, Genereux argues that
the ALJ failed to properly weigh the opinions of the medical
sources in the record. Specifically, she challenges the
ALJ's assessment of Dr. Rachel Gross' opinion, and
she also asserts that the ALJ should not have relied on the
two opinions of the non-treating state agency medical
reviewers. Additionally, Genereux alleges that the ALJ erred
in determining that her statements concerning the intensity,
persistence, and limiting effects of her symptoms were not
credible because they were inconsistent with the residual
functional capacity assessment.
full and extensive administrative record is filed on the
docket in this case, as is the written decision of the ALJ.
There is no reason to restate the details of Genereux's
medical history or of the application process except as
necessary to discuss the specific objections made to the
Weight of the Medical Opinion Evidence
Dr. Gross' Opinion
alleges that the ALJ erred when he did not afford the opinion
of a treating physician, Dr. Gross, controlling weight. On
October 14, 2013, the plaintiff's rheumatologist, Dr.
Gross, completed a Lupus Impairment Questionnaire. (R. at
743-49.) In that questionnaire, Dr. Gross stated that
Genereux was able to sit for six hours in an eight-hour
workday, stand or walk for two hours in an eight-hour
workday, frequently lift up to five pounds and occasionally
lift and carry up to twenty pounds, but she could not kneel,
bend, or stoop. (Id. at 746-48.) Dr. Gross also
opined that the plaintiff would sometimes need to take two to
three unscheduled breaks lasting between fifteen and thirty
minutes during an eight-hour workday. (Id. at 748.)
Finally, Dr. Gross stated that Genereux would likely have one
unexpected absence from work a month due to flare-ups in her
symptoms. (Id.) According to the testimony of the
vocational expert, this combination of limits would make
Genereux unable to perform her past relevant work as a credit
manager, which would support a finding of disability.
(See id. at 171.)
is required to give a treating physician's opinion
controlling weight only if the opinion is
“well-supported by medically acceptable clinical and
laboratory diagnostic techniques and is not inconsistent with
the other substantial evidence” in the medical record.
20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(2). If the ALJ determines that a
treating physician's opinion is not entitled to
controlling weight, the ALJ must consider the following
factors in deciding what weight that opinion deserves: (1)
the length of the treatment relationship and the frequency of
examination; (2) the nature and extent of the treatment
relationship; (3) the relevant evidence in support of the
medical opinion; (4) the consistency of the medical opinions
reflected in the record as a whole; (5) whether the medical
provider is a specialist in the area in which she renders her
opinions; and (6) any other factors which tend to support or
contradict the opinion. Id. at §§
404.1527(c)(2)(i)-(ii), (c)(3)-(6). As long as the ALJ's
decision “makes clear that he considered the factors .
. . [he is] not required to expressly mention each
factor” when determining how much weight to afford each
opinion. McNelley v. Colvin, No. 15-1871, 2016 WL
2941714, at *2 (1st Cir. Apr. 28, 2016). Here, the ALJ's
reasoning was sufficiently clear even though he did not
specifically discuss every factor referenced in the
regulation in his decision.
properly followed the regulatory requirements when he
assigned “little weight” to the opinion of Dr.
Gross. (See R. at 132.) The ALJ explained that he
gave little weight to the opinion of Dr. Gross, instead of
controlling weight, because: Dr. Gross relied heavily on the
plaintiff's subjective report of symptoms and limitations
and uncritically accepted them; Dr. Gross only met with the
plaintiff on an infrequent basis; and the opinion contrasts
sharply with other evidence in the record. (Id.)
the ALJ determined that Dr. Gross' opinion was primarily
based on Genereux's subjective complaints about her
symptoms rather than on actual medical findings. In support
of this finding, the ALJ referred to inconsistencies between
Dr. Gross' treatment records and the opinion submitted by
Dr. Gross. The ALJ is entitled to reject a treating
source's opinion if he determines that the opinion is
based on the claimant's subjective statements about her
condition and not objective medical evidence. See Colon
v. Astrue, No. 11-30078-GAO, 2012 WL 4106764, at *5 (D.
Mass. Sept. 19, 2012).
the ALJ found that Dr. Gross treated Genereux infrequently.
(R. at 132.) The records indicate that Dr. Gross met with
Genereux every three to four months from November 19, 2012,
to September 16, 2013, for a total of five treatments.
(Id. at 701-05, 712-15, 719-22, 761-64, 765-68.) The
ALJ was entitled to take into account the number and spacing
of visits when assessing Dr. Gross' opinion. See
20 C.F.R. § 404.1527(c)(2)(i) (stating that
“[w]hen the treating source has seen you a number of
times and long enough to have obtained a longitudinal picture
of your impairment, we will give the medical source's
medical opinion more weight”). It is also notable that
Genereux's treating physician, ...