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Bakoian v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

March 27, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         Robert Bakoian challenges a finding by the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“the Commissioner”) that he is not disabled, and seeks reversal of the resulting denial of his claim for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). The Commissioner asks the Court to affirm her decision. Doc. No. 56. For the reasons below, Bakoian's motion for an order reversing the Commissioner's decision (Doc. No. 54) is DENIED, and the Commissioner's motion (Doc. No. 56) is ALLOWED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural History

         This case lands here for the third time after a feat of administrative and procedural acrobatics. Bakoian thrice applied for social security benefits: once in June 2009 for both DIB and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”), again in February 2012 for SSI, and once more in November 2015 for SSI. The Court reviews the ALJ's September 3, 2015 decision on the 2009 and 2012 consolidated applications.

         This Court previously reviewed the Commissioner's denial of Bakoian's 2009 application. See Bakoian v. Astrue, No. 13-cv-10075-LTS (D. Mass. Nov. 12, 2013), ECF No. 23 [hereinafter Remand Order]. The procedural background relevant to that review was set forth in the November 12, 2013 Remand Order; it is incorporated, but will not be repeated, here. Id. at 1-2, 13-15. In its prior Order, the Court determined “that the ALJ [had] improperly weighed the opinions of two treating physicians regarding the severity of Bakoian's mental impairments.” Id. at 18. Specifically, the Court found that: 1) the ALJ's reasons for assigning “less weight” to the opinion of Bakoian's treating physician, Dr. Ralph Talbot, were not supported by the record, id. at 18-22; 2) the ALJ had improperly rejected the opinion of Dr. Yun Kit Lam without obtaining clarifying information, id. at 22-23; and 3) the ALJ had improperly relied on the report of an agency consultant who had not reviewed all relevant records, id. at 23. The Court remanded and required the ALJ to “contact[] Dr. Lam for clarification, ” “reweigh all medical source opinions, ” and “consider[] whether and how Bakoian's more recent treatment records impact the weight assigned to” the agency consultant's opinion. Id.

         Meanwhile, on February 15, 2012, Bakoian filed a second application for SSI, again alleging disability since May 13, 2009. A.R. at 203-23.[1] After it was denied initially and on reconsideration, A.R. at 142, 148, Bakoian appeared before the same ALJ who again found that he was not disabled, A.R. at 1529-49. The Appeals Council denied review, A.R. at 1, and Bakoian filed another appeal in this Court. Doc. No. 1. On October 28, 2014, pursuant to an agreement between Bakoian and the Commissioner, the Court remanded Bakoian's 2012 application to the agency for further proceedings. Doc. No. 27.

         On November 14, 2014, the Appeals Council consolidated and remanded the 2009 and 2012 applications for further proceedings before the ALJ. A.R. at 965-66. Bakoian had a third hearing before the same ALJ, who issued a September 3, 2015 decision again denying his applications. A.R. at 960.

         Two months later, Bakoian reapplied for SSI benefits; this application was approved on December 28, 2016. See Doc. No. 55 at 12.[2]

         On May 5, 2016, Bakoian filed an amended complaint in this action requesting the Court's review of the ALJ's September 2015 decision, but only insofar as it denied his 2009 application for DIB. Doc. No. 34.

         B. Medical History

         The Court recounted in detail the relevant records regarding Bakoian's mental impairments in its prior Order. Remand Order at 2-13. Those facts are incorporated, but will not be repeated, here. The following additional facts bear on the issue of Bakoian's mental limitations:[3]

• On January 5, 2012, Bakoian was admitted to Bournewood Hospital due to anxiety and depression. He was “irritable, demanding, and med-seeking.” Bakoian reported he had been using drugs heavily since being released from prison three months prior. He was assigned a Global Assessment of Functioning (“GAF”) score of 50 upon his discharge on January 10, 2012. A.R. at 975.
• On January 19, 2012, Dr. Talbot completed a disability report stating Bakoian had no difficulty understanding and remembering, some difficulty “keeping his mind on one thing, ” and some problems “arguing” with coworkers. A.R. at 776-81. Dr. Talbot completed the same report a year later, reporting the same assessment. A.R. at 839-45.
• On June 17, 2012, Bakoian was admitted to the ER for symptoms related to intravenous heroin use. He reported that he planned to continue using heroin until he could get into a ...

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