United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
MEMORANDUM & ORDER
NATHANIEL M. GORTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Jane Drew (“Drew” or “petitioner”)
filed this action to appeal the denial of her application for
disability benefits against Carolyn W. Colvin, Commissioner
of the Social Security Administration (“the
Commissioner” or “respondent”). Petitioner
claims she was wrongfully denied disability insurance
benefits because the Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) improperly discounted the medical opinion
of her attending physician and otherwise made findings not
supported by substantial evidence. Pending before the Court
are petitioner's motion for an order reversing the
Commissioner's decision and respondent's motion for
an order affirming the Commissioner's decision. For the
reasons that follow, petitioner's motion to reverse will
be denied and the Commissioner's motion to affirm will be
Employment History and Alleged Disability
was 50 years old on the alleged “onset date” of
October 30, 2013. She was previously employed as a Certified
Nursing Assistant, hospital coordinator and home health aide.
The nature of the claimed disability arises from back pain,
leg pain and associated weakness with significant pain in the
in May, 2013, petitioner began treatment with Dr. Ian Colon,
M.D., who noted decreased lumbar motion and sacroiliac
(“SI”) joint tenderness. He prescribed the
painkiller Percocet which had a seemingly positive effect. At
subsequent examinations, petitioner's pain had worsened
and Dr. Colon prescribed three different replacement
painkillers: Celebrex, Gabapentin and MS Contin, a longer
lasting opioid to help petitioner manage her pain levels.
October, 2013, petitioner began seeing Dr. Allison Gorski,
M.D., for her lumbar spine pain. Dr. Gorski placed petitioner
on a mix of opioid and non-opioid painkillers including
Oxycodone, OxyContin, Gabapentin, Celebrex, Methadone and
Topamax. Dr. Gorski frequently questioned petitioner about
her level of pain, noting that the answers were usually
between a seven and ten on a pain scale. With respect to
petitioner's work capacity, Dr. Gorski opined that
petitioner could only sit or stand for one hour at a time
during a standard eight-hour work day. She found that
petitioner had to change positions every 15 minutes while
sitting, be allowed to take 10-15 minute unscheduled breaks
and constantly be allowed to change from sitting, standing or
walking. Dr. Gorski also added that petitioner could not lift
more than ten pounds and would likely be absent from work
four days per month.
consulted with two other doctors during the period after the
alleged “onset date”. In April, 2014, she was
treated by James Rainville, M.D., specifically for the
radiating pain in her back. Dr. Rainville noted that
petitioner was very pain-focused during most of the
examination and opined that her pain could be originating
from her central nervous system. He suggested water therapy
using petitioner's pool as a supplementary form of
relief. In June, 2014, petitioner underwent a psychological
evaluation by Sol Pittenger, Psy.D. Dr. Pittenger found
petitioner's mood to be irritable, low and sad and
ultimately decided petitioner's psychological issues to
be opioid related. Her primary source of relief had come from
painkiller prescriptions and she later discontinued the water
therapy despite initial positive effects.
asserts that, due to her health problems as of October 30,
2013, the “onset date”, she was unable to be
gainfully employed for the following four years through
October 30, 2017, the date last insured.
November 25, 2013, petitioner applied for Title II disability
benefits under the Social Security Act (“the
Act”). She states she has been disabled and unable to
work since the “onset date”, October 30, 2013. On
March 5, 2014, her claim was denied and on June 26, 2014, her
claim was denied after reconsideration.
filed a timely request for a hearing and a hearing was held
on August 18, 2015, before ALJ Paul S. Carter. Petitioner was
represented by counsel. Evidence from petitioner was
considered alongside the testimony of an impartial vocational
expert (“the VE”). The ALJ found that Drew was
not disabled under sections 216(i) & 223(d) of the Act.
Petitioner filed a request for review in October, 2015,
claiming she was still absolutely disabled. In August, 2016,
petitioner's request for reconsideration was also denied.
obtain benefits under § 1602 of the Act, 42 U.S.C.
§ 1381a, an individual must ...