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Patoski v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

July 30, 2018

Susan W. Patoski, Plaintiff,
v.
Nancy A. Berryhill, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM & ORDER

          NATHANIEL M. GORTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Susan W. Patoski (“Patoski” or “plaintiff”) seeks judicial review of the denial of her application for disability insurance benefits by defendant, Nancy A. Berryhill (“the Commissioner” or “defendant”), in her official capacity as Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“SSA”). Pending before the Court are plaintiff's motion to reverse or remand the Commissioner's decision and defendant's motion to affirm the same. For the reasons that follow, plaintiff's motion will be denied and the Commissioner's motion will be allowed.

         I. Background

         A. Employment History and Alleged Disability

         Patoski was born in 1950. She resides in Marblehead, Massachusetts, is married and has one child. She finished college and graduate school and worked as a financial services analyst from 1985 to 1997. From the beginning of her employment, Patoski had accommodations to account for her psychiatric and physical disorders. Beginning in 1985, Patoski's health declined and, by 1997, she was unable to work as a financial analyst. Patoski tried unsuccessfully to go back to school in 2000 and has not maintained full time employment since 1997. She filed an application for social security disability (“SSD”) under Title II of the Social Security Act (“the Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 216(i) and 223(d), in November, 2013. For purposes of her application for disability insurance benefits, her alleged onset date (“AOD”) is May 1, 2001, the date on which she started her treatment for breast cancer.

         B. Procedural Background

         Patoski's initial application for disability benefits was filed on November 8, 2013. Her disability claim was predicated on her obsessive compulsive disorder (“OCD”), depression, cervical disc damage, headaches, breast cancer and severe anxiety stemming from those conditions. Her application was denied in October, 2014, and, upon reconsideration, further denied in June, 2015. She filed a request for a hearing and review of the SSA's decision. That hearing was held on August 16, 2016, before Administrative Law Judge Sujata Rodgers (“the ALJ”). In September, 2016, the ALJ issued a partially favorable decision finding that Patoski was disabled from May 1, 2001, through May 1, 2002. The ALJ also found, however, that Patoski's symptoms after May 2, 2002, were not disabling. Patoski appealed the ALJ's decision to the Social Security Administration Appeals Council (“the Appeals Council”). In March, 2017, the Appeals Council issued a ruling adopting the ALJ's decision and clarifying that Patoski is not entitled to any disability benefits.

         C. The ALJ's Decision

         The ALJ found that Patoski was disabled while undergoing treatment for breast cancer from May 1, 2001, through May 1, 2002 (“the treatment period”). Having so found, the ALJ applied an eight-step analysis to determine whether Patoski's disability continued through December 31, 2002, which is her date last insured (“DLI”). The ALJ then found that Patoski was not disabled beginning on May 2, 2002, through December 31, 2002 (“the post-treatment period”), and continuing through the date of the decision. The ALJ relied upon testimony presented at the disability hearing as well as medical reports from doctors and health professionals.

         At step one of the analysis, the ALJ determined that Patoski was not engaged in substantial gainful activity. At step two, the ALJ determined that Patoski did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(d), 404.1525 and 404.1526. At step three, the ALJ concluded that medical improvement had occurred as of May 2, 2002. At step four, the ALJ found that this medical improvement was related to Patoski's ability to work and that Patoski's functional capacity for basic work activities increased after her breast cancer treatment concluded on May 1, 2002. Because step five applies only if medical improvement is not related to the ability to work, the ALJ declined to make a step-five finding. At step six, the ALJ determined that Patoski had the following severe impairments: cervical radiculopathy, breast cancer, OCD, anxiety and depression.

         Before reaching step seven, the ALJ found that, after the treatment period, Patoski was no longer permitted to be absent from work at least two days per month for treatment of her medical impairments. Patoski's residual functional capacity (“RFC”) was otherwise unchanged between the treatment period and the post-treatment period. At step seven, the ALJ concluded Patoski was unable to perform her past relevant work. At step eight, the ALJ determined that, considering Patoski's background and the post-treatment RFC finding, Patoski was able to perform a significant number of jobs in the national economy that existed during the post-treatment period and after her DLI.

         Furthermore, the ALJ determined that Patoski remained insured through December 31, 2002, which is her DLI. Patoski was therefore required to establish disability on or before the DLI in order to be entitled to a period of disability and disability insurance benefits. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 423 (a)(A) & (c)(1).

         D. The Appeals Council's Decision

         Patoski timely appealed the ALJ's decision and review was granted by the Social Security Administration Appeals Council (“the Appeals Council”). In March, 2017, the Appeals Council adopted the ALJ's decision regarding all issues in this case and modified the decision to clarify that Patoski was not entitled to a period of disability or benefits from May 1, 2001, to May 1, 2002, because she applied too long after her disability ceased. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.621(d) and 404.320(b)(3).

         Patoski filed her complaint in this action on May 5, 2017, alleging that the ALJ failed to consider pertinent evidence and did not properly conduct the analysis under 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a), 404.1527(d), 404.1529(c) and 404.1594. Patoski also alleged that the Appeals Council did not 1) consider her arguments or 2) provide notice that it was limiting the issues for review to those mentioned in its notice of proposed action sent to Patoski on November 7, 2016.

         II. Pe ...


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