United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
ALLISON D. BURROUGHS U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.
Timothy Hart brings this action pursuant to § 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 denying his claims for Social Security
Disability Insurance (“SSDI”) and Supplemental
Security Income (“SSI”) benefits. Before the
Court is Mr. Hart's Motion to Reverse the Decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security [ECF. No. 16], which seeks to
reverse or remand the ALJ decision denying him benefits, and
the Commissioner's Motion to Affirm the Decision of
Commissioner [ECF No. 19]. For the reasons explained below,
the Court concludes that the ALJ's decision was supported
by substantial evidence. Therefore, Mr. Hart's motion to
reverse or remand is DENIED, and the
Commissioner's motion to affirm is ALLOWED.
Statutory and Regulatory Framework: Five-Step Process to
Evaluate Disability Claims
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).
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 which
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 under the Act, the Commissioner
uses a five-step process, which the First Circuit has
explained as follows:
[a]ll 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
Seavey, 276 F.3d at 5 (citing 20 C.F.R. §
February 27, 2013, Mr. Hart filed his application for SSDI
benefits. [R. 83]. Soon thereafter, on April 4, 2013, he also
applied for SSI benefits. [R. 84]. He alleged in both
applications that he became disabled on March 21, 2012 due to
bipolar disorder and sleep apnea. [R. 85, 95, 202, 209]. On
August 5, 2013, the Social Security Administration
(“SSA”) denied Mr. Hart's applications, and
again upon reconsideration on October 3, 2013. [R. 131-36,
144- 46]. On October 7, 2013, Mr. Hart requested an
administrative hearing [R. 147], which took place before
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Francis Hurley
on July 10, 2014 [R. 31]. Mr. Hart, who was represented by
counsel, appeared and testified at the hearing. [R. 13]. On
November 24, 2014, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Mr.
Hart was not disabled, and therefore not entitled to
benefits. [R. 26]. The SSA Appeals Council denied Mr.
Hart's Request for Review on November 24, 2014. [R. 1].
On April 9, 2016, Mr. Hart filed a complaint with this Court,
seeking to reverse or remand the Commissioner's decision
pursuant to § 205(g) of the Act. [ECF. No. 1].
Factual and Medical Background
Hart was born on April 24, 1981. [R. 83]. He currently lives
in Chelsea, Massachusetts. [R. 83]. He is a high school
graduate, and has previously worked as a cashier,
telemarketer, waiter, and home health aide. [ECF No. 17 at
4]. He alleges disability due to bipolar disorder and sleep
apnea. [R. 85].
medical evidence submitted as part of the administrative
record, which the ALJ considered in making his ultimate
decision, indicates that, on October 25, 2010, Mr. Hart was
first seen in connection with his bipolar disorder, which he
claimed had been diagnosed two-and-a-half years prior. [R.
330-35]. Mr. Hart had recently moved to Massachusetts from
Florida. [R. 331]. He reported that he would get depressed at
“the drop of a pin, ” but would return to
“normal” in no time. [R. 330]. He stated that he
was in a state of hopelessness regarding his relationship,
friends, and job status, and was experiencing anxiety
symptoms including obsessive thoughts, nervousness, and
avoidance of social interactions. [R. 333]. On December 1,
2010, Mr. Hart was seen again at Boston Medical Center. [R.
340]. Kathleen Fuentes, APRN, wrote at that time that Mr.
Hart “doesn't present as depressed and doesn't
meet criteria for [major depressive disorder] or bipolar
issues” and “would benefit from therapy.”
[R. 340]. Ms. Fuentes also recommended that he try taking
Prozac, which he agreed to. [R. 341]. When he was seen by a
provider on December 6, 2010, Mr. Hart reported that Prozac
was having “positive effects” and that he
believed he could hold a part time job, but that he was
worried about the stress involved with work. [R. 336-37].
2011, Tfawa Haynes, LICSW at Fenway Health conducted a mental
health evaluation of Mr. Hart, diagnosed him with bipolar
affective disorder, and recommended treatment for moderate
depression and anxiety [R. 598-02]. On September 8, 2011, Mr.
Hart returned to Fenway Health, where he saw Jennifer Lakins,
LMHC. [R. 593]. He reported symptoms of depression, impulsive
spending, panic attacks in crowded areas, and a feeling that
“people are out to get [him].” [R. 593].
February 22, 2012, Erwin Ilano, M.D., treated Mr. Hart, who
reported that the prescribed medication was effectively
reducing his anxiety, that his mind was not as
“rampant, ” and that he was more in control of
his situation. [R. 577]. Dr. Ilano observed that his speech
rate, rhythm, and volume were normal, and that there were no
psychomotor changes. Id. Mr. Hart displayed no signs
of overt psychosis and no gross cognitive deficits.
Id. He assigned Mr. Hart a Global Assessment of
Functioning (“GAF”) score of 59. [R. 578].
March 29, 2012, Dr. Ilano again treated Mr. Hart, who
complained that he was “feeling more depressed and
anxious and [was] having difficulty taking care of
himself.” [R. 575]. He also reported insomnia, mood
swings, feelings of hopelessness, and intermittent suicidal
thoughts. Id. In response, Dr. Ilano increased Mr.
Hart's dosage of Lamictal from 100mg to 150mg for mood
stabilization, and recommended a “day treatment program
for stabilization.” [R. 576].
April 24, 2012, Dr. Ilano saw Mr. Hart, who stated that his
mood had improved after the medication increase and that he
had found temporary housing, but that he had trouble
concentrating. [R. 569]. Dr. Ilano observed that his mood and
affect were sad, that his speech rate, volume, and rhythm
were normal, that there were no psychomotor changes or overt
psychosis, and that his insight and judgment were intact.
Id. He recommended continuing weekly counseling and
support, and continued use of the medication already
prescribed. [R. 570].
a follow-up visit in July 2012, Mr. Hart told Dr. Ilano that
he was still experiencing “ups and downs, ” but
that this had become more manageable with treatment. [R.
567]. In subsequent visits in August and September 2012 with
Dr. Ilano, Mr. Hart reported that his mood was stable and
denied any symptoms of depression and anxiety. [R. 558, 560].
In December 2012, however, he reported to Dr. Ilano that he
was “struggling with depression and loneliness, ”
partly due to his living and financial situation at that
time. [R. 553]. At every visit, Dr. Ilano observed that Mr.
Hart's speech rate, volume, and rhythm were normal, there
were no psychomotor changes, no overt psychosis, and that his
insight and judgment were intact. [R. 553].
Ilano saw Mr. Hart again in February, April, and June of
2013. [R. 543, 551, 664]. Mr. Hart reported struggling with
the death of his ex-boyfriend [R. 551] and with
“feeling that he's not home” [R. 543]. In
June, he stated that he broke up with his then-boyfriend but
engaged in physical activities and had supportive friends
that he could talk to online. [R. 664]. Dr. Ilano
consistently observed that Mr. Hart's speech rate,
volume, and rhythm were normal, there were no psychomotor
changes, no overt psychosis, no gross cognitive deficits, no
signs of suicidal or homicidal ideation, and that his insight
and judgment were intact. [R. 551, 543, 664]. In April and
June, Dr. Ilano also observed that Mr. Hart's
“[t]hought process is linear and goal directed, ...