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Adamson v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

March 27, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1] Defendant.



         The plaintiff, Jessica McGill Adamson, seeks reversal and remand of a decision by the defendant, the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the “Commissioner”), denying her Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”). Doc. No. 16. The Commissioner seeks an order affirming her decision. Doc. Nos. 17, 18. For the reasons that follow, Adamson's Motion to Reverse is DENIED, and the Commissioner's Motion for Order Affirming the Decision is ALLOWED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural History

         In March of 2014, Adamson applied for DIB, alleging that she became disabled on March 11, 2013. A.R. at 255-56.[2] Her application was denied initially on April 8, 2014, A.R. at 200-02, and again upon reconsideration on July 25, 2014, A.R. at 207-09. On August 18, 2014, Adamson requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). A.R. at 210. Adamson appeared, represented by counsel, and testified at her November 10, 2015 hearing, which also featured testimony by a vocational expert Diane Durr. A.R. at 150-177.

         Thereafter, the ALJ issued a written decision denying Adamson's application. A.R. at 10-27. Adamson's timely request for review by the Appeals Council was denied, A.R. at 1-6, rendering the ALJ's determination the final decision of the Commissioner. Adamson filed this action appealing the Commissioner's decision on December 28, 2016. Doc. No. 1.

         B. Adamson's Physical Impairments

         In the paperwork accompanying her applications, Adamson claimed she suffered from physical impairments, including loss of function from surgery, weakness, fatigue of limb, pain spikes, numbness, loss of sensation of wrist and hand, and sensitivity to touch and objects.[3]A.R. at 282. The administrative record contains the following relevant evidence regarding Adamson's alleged physical impairments:

• Adamson worked as a cashier at a restaurant and as a cashier and deli worker at a convenience store. A.R. at 162-63. She asserts that on November 14, 2011, she sustained a work-related injury to her right hand and received preliminary treatment at the Falmouth Hospital emergency room. Doc. No. 16 at 4; A.R. at 154. Adamson testified that she stopped working in 2012. Id.
• On December 13, 2011, Adamson visited the Falmouth Hospital emergency room complaining of increased pain in her right wrist after having rolled onto it the night before. A.R. at 359. She received a radiograph of her right wrist, which indicated “[w]idened scapholunate interval suggesting ligament disruption.” A.R. at 357. Emergency staff diagnosed Adamson with tendonitis (De Quervain's tenosynovitis) and instructed her to take ibuprofen. A.R. at 361, 363.
• At the instruction of her primary care physician, Adamson obtained an MRI of her right wrist in January 2012. The results of the MRI indicated “disruption of the scapholunate ligament and widening of distance between the scaphoid and lunate.” A.R. at 345-349, 351.
• In March 2012, Adamson visited the emergency center at Cape Cod Hospital complaining of persistent pain and swelling in her right arm, which she described as more severe than her prior symptoms and prohibitive of work. A.R. at 144-146. Emergency staff observed “right wrist tenderness with palpation diffuse” and “weakness and limited [range of motion.]” A.R. at 145. Adamson was prescribed Vicodin and instructed to consult an orthopedic specialist. A.R. at 146.
• Adamson asserts that she received conservative treatment from orthopedic physician Dr. Jason Fanule in July 2012. Doc. No. 16 at 4. The administrative record does not include information about this treatment.
• In October 2012, orthopedic surgeon Dr. Jeffrey L. Zilderfarb completed a onetime impartial examination of Adamson for the Massachusetts Department of Industrial Accidents. A.R. at 478-79. Dr. Zilderfarb found “limited range of motion of the wrist with tenderness to palpation” and diagnosed “[p]robable scapholunate ligament tear with de Quervain's tendinitis.” Id. Dr. Zilderfarb concluded that Adamson “is capable of light duty work that does not involve lifting more than two pounds with the right wrist and no repetitive use of the right arm.” Id.
• In February 2013, Adamson first visited orthopedic surgeon and hand and upper extremity specialist Dr. Hillel Skoff. A.R. at 452-53. Dr. Skoff determined that surgical intervention was appropriate but explained to Adamson that he should only perform the surgery after she had recovered from a pulmonary embolism for which she then was being treated. Id.
• In August 2013, Dr. Skoff performed right wrist first dorsal compartment release and a capsulorrhaphy and ligament reconstruction on the right wrist. A.R. at 457.
• In September 2013, Dr. Skoff placed Adamson into a short-arm cast and instructed her to perform range of motion exercises. A.R. at 449. In December 2013, Dr. Skoff removed Adamson's cast and prescribed mobilization and strengthening exercises and occupational therapy. A.R. at 446.
• After a follow-up visit in January 2014, Dr. Skoff reported that Adamson's physical therapist had not been covering all of the exercises that Dr. Skoff had recommended. A.R. at 445. He instructed Adamson to communicate to the therapist “to be more aggressive” with these exercises. Id.
• Following a March 2014 examination, Dr. Skoff noted that “[Adamson's] preoperative pain level as well as her functional level have improved by virtue of the operations, but her range of motion remains somewhat deficient.” A.R. at 454. He observed that “[s]he has improved over time” but that “her main issues have been scarring after the procedure while limiting motion relative to both of these procedures.” Id. Dr. Skoff discussed scar-cutting treatment with Adamson, but otherwise communicated to her that “she has reached an end result with respect to treatment to date.” Id.
• In April 2014, a state agency physician, Dr. Richard Cohen, completed a Residential Functional Capacity Assessment of Adamson. A.R. at 178-185. He opined that Adamson could perform light work but needed to avoid ladders completely and engage in only occasional fine and gross ...

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