United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
ALLISON D. BURROUGHS U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE
Liliana Maria Dias (“Ms. Dias” or
“Claimant”) brings this action pursuant to
section 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 (the
“Commissioner”) denying her claim for Social
Security Disability Insurance (“SSDI”). Currently
pending are Claimant's motion to reverse the
Commissioner's decision denying her disability benefits
[ECF No. 25], and the Commissioner's cross-motion for an
order affirming the decision. [ECF No. 32]. For the reasons
described herein, the Court finds that the ALJ's decision
is supported by substantial evidence and therefore
DENIES Claimant's motion to reverse and remand
and ALLOWS the Commissioner's motion to affirm.
Statutory and Regulatory Framework: Five-Step Process to
Evaluate Disability Claims
“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,
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 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. The claimant must
also establish that he or she was disabled under the Act
during the relevant time period between the alleged onset
date and the date when the claimant last met the earning
requirements for disability benefits under the Act.
Rodriguez-Gonzalez v. Astrue, 854 F.Supp. 2d. 176,
179 (D.P.R. 2012) (citing Evangelista v. Sec'y Health
& Human Servs., 826 F.3d 136, 140 n.3 (1st Cir.
evaluating a disability claim under the Act, the Commissioner
uses a five-step process, which the First Circuit has
explained as follows:
All 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. §
Dias filed her application for SSDI benefits on April 18,
2008. [R. 90]. She alleged that she became disabled on
January 2, 2004, due to fibromyalgia, depression, anxiety,
and post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”). [R.
12, 14-15, 90]. Her date last insured was December 31, 2007.
Social Security Administration (the “SSA”) denied
Ms. Dias's applications for SSDI benefits on July 16,
2008, and again upon reconsideration. [R. 48-53]. Thereafter, Ms.
Dias requested an administrative hearing [R. 56-57], and a
hearing took place before Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) James H. Packer on September 14, 2010.
[R. 6]. Ms. Dias, who was represented by counsel, appeared
and testified at the hearing. [R. 6-32]. On October 1, 2010,
the ALJ issued a decision finding that Ms. Dias was not
disabled. [R. 35-44]. The SSA Decision Review Board declined
to review Ms. Dias's claim within the prescribed
timeframe, and the ALJ's decision became final on January
24, 2011. [R. 45-47].
6, 2011, Plaintiff filed a timely complaint with this
Court seeking review of the Commissioner's
decision pursuant to section 205(g) of the Act. See
[R. 812]. The government filed an assented-to motion to
remand the case to the SSA on March 14, 2012, requesting
further development of the record, which the court granted on
March 15, 2012. [R. 809-12]. On April 9, 2012, the SSA
Appeals Council subsequently remanded the case to the ALJ for
additional proceedings on the grounds that the original
decision did not 1) contain an evaluation of the opinions
submitted by Claimant's treating sources, 2) contain a
detailed analysis of Claimant's credibility, or 3)
contain an assessment of Claimant's ability to do
work-related mental activities. [R. 813-17]. The ALJ held a
second hearing on September 30, 2013 [R. 783-808] and
subsequently issued a second decision on November 22, 2013
finding that Ms. Dias was not disabled as of her date last
insured. [R. 761-74]. Ms. Dias's counsel filed timely
written exceptions to the Appeals Council on November 25,
2013. [R. 755-60]. On May 20, 2015, the Appeals Council
declined to assume jurisdiction and the ALJ's second
decision became final. [R. 744-46]. On July 23, 2015, Ms.
Dias filed a timely complaint with this Court, seeking review
of the Commissioner's decision pursuant to section 205(g)
of the Act. [ECF No. 1].
Dias was born May 2, 1968 [R. 201-04] in Portugal and lived
there until the age of 18. [R. 9]. She described a traumatic
upbringing and childhood due to her father's alcoholism.
[R.15]. In 1986, Ms. Dias immigrated to the United States and
graduated from Stoughton High School a year and a half later.
[R. 10]. She is currently 49 years old.
approximately 1989 to 2002, Ms. Dias worked as a customer
service representative for an insurance agency. [R. 10-11].
She worked primarily face-to-face with customers at a service
counter, and estimated that she spent about half the day
seated behind a desk and half the day standing behind the
counter. [R. 11]. She stopped working in 2002. [R. 10-11].
Additional facts are included below as applicable.
1994, Ms. Dias was involved in a car accident which resulted
in, inter alia, a concussion and back pain. [R.
344-54]. She went to the emergency room in 1995 with post-
concussion syndrome and complaints of migraines due to the
car accident. [R. 358-59]. Medical records indicate that her
treating physicians believed that Ms. Dias was suffering from
PTSD as a result of her difficult upbringing, which was
exacerbated by the car accident. [R. 698, 700].
Dias was first diagnosed with fibromyalgia in January 2002.
[R. 422]. In 2004, she visited Raphael Bueno, M.D. for
extremity pain and weakness. [R. 276]. Dr. Bueno noted that
although attempts at therapy resulted in limited improvement,
MRIs and an EMG showed no abnormalities. Id. Dr.
Bueno also wrote that during the physical exam Ms. Dias
appeared “quite well.” Id. In 2005, Ms.
Dias suffered a post-partum hemorrhage following a Cesarean
section during the birth of her twins and was transported via
an emergency medical flight to Brigham and Women's
Hospital, where she underwent a total hysterectomy. [R.
501-504]. After this, Ms. Dias began seeing doctors for
complaints of headaches, blurred vision, depression, back
pain, and fatigue. See, e.g., [R. 180-83, 204, 207,
209, 267, 269-71, 273-75, 493-94]. In 2005, Ms. Dias began
seeing treating physician Lucia Dias-Hoff, M.D.,
and treating rheumatologist Michael Hait, M.D. See,
e.g., [R. 188-241, 264]. Both doctors reported
fibromyalgia with varied pain, and some difficulty sleeping,
but that she was tolerating medications well and was
functional. See, e.g., [R. 264].
2006, a chest X-ray came back normal and a CAT scan showed no
abnormalities. [R. 234, 236]. In the same year, Ms. Dias had
several pelvic exams in relation to her hysterectomy and
other physical exams which revealed appendicitis. See,
e.g., [R. 229-32]. In 2007, Ms. Dias went to Gregg
Angell, M.D., complaining of abdominal pain, however, the
physical exam showed appropriate appearance and orientation
and a normal abdomen. [R. 571-98]. In 2008, Barbara Stelle,
M.D., a consultative psychiatrist, examined Ms. Dias. [R.
333-34]. Dr. Stelle noted Ms. Dias's history of
fibromyalgia, subjective complaints of depression and fatigue
as well as subjective feelings of panic and anxiety related
to traumatic events in her life. Id. Dr. Stelle also
noted at the time Ms. Dias was well groomed, made good eye
contact, had good rapport, and was cooperative although her
affect showed depressed mood. Id.
2008, Drs. Dias-Hoff and Hait examined Ms. Dias and reported
her general appearance as active, alert, hydrated, and in no
distress. See, e.g., [R. 180, 185, 292, 297, 305,
600]. Her abdomen was normal, and musculoskeletal exams
showed full range of motion and strength in all joints and
muscle groups. Id. At this time there were also no
signs of inflammation or trigger points. Id.
Physical exams remained unchanged throughout 2008. [R.
600-01]. Between 2008 and 2009, several state-agency medical
consultants evaluated Ms. Dias. See, e.g., [R.
256-63, 284-91, 335-37]. These consultants determined that
she retained the residual functional capacity
(“RFC”) to perform light work in spite of her
subjective complaints of pain. Id. One consultant
concluded that she could lift and/or carry twenty pounds
occasionally and ten pounds frequently, stand and/or walk
with normal breaks for a total of six hours in an eight-hour
workday, and sit with normal breaks for a total of six hours
in an eight-hour workday. [R. 285]. This report also
concluded there were no physical abnormalities, and no
identified or counted trigger points, but noted that she had
nonetheless been treated by a rheumatologist for
Dias-Hoff examined Ms. Dias again in 2009 and referenced a
surgery scheduled for abdominal pain. [R. 711-12]. Despite
Ms. Dias's subjective complaints of pain, physical exams
that day appeared normal. Id. Dr. Dias-Hoff recorded
her impression of Ms. Dias's conditions as chronic ...