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Drew v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

February 14, 2018

Pamela Jane Drew, Plaintiff,
Carolyn W. Colvin, Defendant.



         Pamela 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 allowed.

         I. Background

         A. Employment History and Alleged Disability

         Drew 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 tailbone area.

         Beginning 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.

         In 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.

         Petitioner 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.

         Drew 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.

         B. Procedural Background

         On 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.

         Petitioner 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.

         C. Legal Standard

         To obtain benefits under § 1602 of the Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1381a, an individual must ...

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