United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
ALLISON D. BURROUGHS U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.
Genesis Santana Lopez (“Claimant”) brings this
action pursuant to section 205(g) of the Social Security Act,
42 U.S.C. § 405(g), for review of the partially
favorable decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration (the “Commissioner”), regarding
her claims for childhood disability benefits. Specifically,
although Claimant was awarded benefits from April 12, 2014
forward, she was denied benefits from May 29, 2012 to April
12, 2014. Currently pending is Claimant's motion to
reverse the Commissioner's decision denying her
disability benefits beginning May 29, 2012 [ECF No. 16] and
the Commissioner's motion for an order affirming the
decision [ECF No. 21]. For the reasons described herein, the
Court concludes that the decision was supported by
substantial evidence and therefore DENIES
Claimant's motion to reverse and ALLOWS the
Commissioner's motion to affirm.
Statutory and Regulatory Framework
“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 provides that an individual
shall be considered to be “disabled” if he or she
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.
evaluating a disability claim for an individual under the age
of eighteen, the Commissioner utilizes a three-step
sequential evaluation process. 20 C.F.R. § 416.924;
see also Pagan ex rel. A.C. v. Astrue, 718
F.Supp.2d 176, 181 (D. Mass. 2010). First, the Commissioner
must determine whether the child is engaging in
“substantial gainful activity.” Id.
(citing Beliveau v. Apfel, 154 F.Supp.2d 89, 93 (D.
Mass. 2001) and 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(b)). If the
individual is not engaging in substantial gainful activity,
the Commissioner must next determine whether the child has an
impairment (or a combination of impairments) that is
“severe.” 20 C.F.R. § 416.924(c). Third, the
Commissioner must determine whether the impairment meets,
medically equals, or functionally equals an impairment listed
in the “Listing of Impairments.” 20 C.F.R. §
416.924(d). If the child's impairment does not meet,
medically equal, or functionally equal a “listed”
impairment, the child will be deemed “not
disabled.” § 416.924(d); see also
Pagan ex rel A.C., 718 F.Supp.2d at 181. If a child
cannot qualify under the listings, 20 CFR pt. 404, subpt. P,
App. 1 (pt. B), she is denied benefits. Id.
filed her application for childhood disability benefits on
May 29, 2012, alleging that she become disabled as of the
same date due to seizures, headaches, and bone pain. [R.
The Social Security Administration (the “SSA”)
initially denied Claimant's application for childhood
disability benefits on August 14, 2012, and again upon
reconsideration on June 18, 2013. [R. 124]. Thereafter,
Claimant requested an administrative hearing, and a hearing
took place before Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) Eric Eklund on October 14, 2014. [R. 17].
Claimant, who was represented by counsel, appeared and
testified at the hearing. James Conway, an independent
vocational expert, also appeared and testified. [R. 124]. On
November 28, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision finding that
Claimant was not disabled as of May 29, 2012, but that she
became disabled after April 12, 2014, and before attaining
age eighteen. [R. 139]. The SSA Appeals Council denied
Claimant's request for review on March 24, 2016, at which
point the ALJ's decision became final and subject to
judicial review. Accordingly, on May 24, 2016, Claimant filed
a timely complaint with this Court [ECF No. 1], seeking to
reverse the Commissioner's decision pursuant to section
205(g) of the Act [ECF No. 16]. On December 21, 2016,
Defendant Carolyn Colvin filed a motion to affirm the
Commissioner's decision. [ECF No. 21].
was born on August 26, 1996, and fell under the
“adolescents” age group at the time of the
alleged onset date for her disability. [R. 129]. During the
time of her alleged onset date, Claimant was one month shy of
turning sixteen years old, attending Lowell High School, and
living with her mother and her father. [R. 39-40, 94]. She
often went shopping for groceries and clothing with her
mother, did her homework, and cooked and cleaned. [R. 40-41].
During her time as a student, she did not work and therefore
had no work history. [R. 129]. She reached age eighteen on
August 26, 2014. Id. Claimant has not objected to
the ALJ's finding of disability as of April 12, 2014, but
does challenge the finding that she was not disabled as of
May 29, 2012.
March 2011 to May 2012, Claimant occasionally made visits to
a nurse practitioner, Kristen Padulsky, for treatment related
to her headaches. On three separate occasions, in March 2011,
September 2011, and again in May 2012, the nurse examined
Claimant, and found that she had good coordination in
standing and walking [R. 501, 504, 507], noting that Claimant
appeared “generally healthy” [R. 501], and had a
“full range of motion” [R. 507].
3, 2012, Claimant went to the emergency room following a
seizure. [R. 436]. While there, she stated that her last
seizure was approximately nine months earlier. She also
reported mild headaches that were resolved with an
anti-inflammatory drug. [R. 436]. Upon discharge, the
hospital noted that Claimant had a seizure disorder. [R.
5, 2012, Claimant followed up with her pediatrician, Cathleen
Bonacci, M.D, complaining of pain and swelling in her leg, as
well as headaches. Dr. Bonacci started Claimant on Naproxen
for the headaches. [R. 463]. She noted that Claimant was also
taking antiepileptic medications, but deferred to Tufts
Neurology for determinations on the medication that she
should take regarding her seizures. [R. 463, 542].
2012, Claimant reported back to Dr. Bonacci, complaining of
the headaches and left knee pain. Dr. Bonacci started
Claimant on amitriptyline medication for the headaches, and
referred her for laboratory testing to determine the nature
of the knee pain. [R. 538-39].
August 3, 2012, Claimant saw a neurologist, Douglas Hyder,
M.D. She reported to Dr. Hyder that she only had
break-through seizures if she skipped taking her medication,
and that she had headaches two to three times per week. [R.
508]. He put her on a lower dose of Celexa, after noting that
higher doses can be associated with seizures, but that lower
doses are not. [R. 509]. On August 30, 2012, she again
visited Dr. Bonacci, reporting headaches that began with loss
of vision and feeling dizzy. [R. 530].
January 2013, Claimant visited Laurie Miller, M.D., with
complaints of joint pain in her left knee that radiated up to
the hip. [R. 566]. At this time, Claimant had rare nocturnal
pain that worsened with activity and occasional limping, as
well as slight wrist pain when opening a jar, cleaning, and
doing dishes. Id. Dr. Miller noted that Claimant was
able to attend school daily, that she participated in modern
dance at school, that her grades were “B's and
C's, ” and that she was interested in going to
April 5, 2013, Claimant reported again to Nurse Padulsky
regarding her headaches, pain, and visual changes that caused
her to miss as many as thirty days of school. [R. 580]. The
nurse wrote that Claimant missed two appointments with Dr.
Hyder, the neurologist, and despite being advised to do so,
had not followed up with him since the visit in August 2012.
Id. She further noted that ...