United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
FARAH E. HOSSEINI, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
ALLISON D. BURROUGHS, U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE
Farah Hosseini (“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
(“Commissioner”) denying her claim for Social
Security Disability Insurance (“SSDI”) benefits.
Currently pending are Claimant's motion to reverse the
Commissioner's decision denying her disability benefits,
[ECF No. 18], and the Commissioner's cross-motion for an
order affirming the decision, [ECF No. 20]. For the reasons
set forth herein, the Court finds that the Administrative Law
Judge's decision was 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
Social Security Administration is the federal agency charged
with administering both the SSDI benefits program, which
provides disability insurance for covered workers, and the
Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) program,
which assists the indigent, aged, and disabled. Seavey v.
Barnhart, 276 F.3d 1, 5 (1st Cir. 2001) (citing 42
U.S.C. §§ 423, 1381a).
Social Security Act (the “Act”) provides that an
individual shall be considered “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 which
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. 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(B); 20 C.F.R.
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. §
filed her application for disability insurance benefits on
September 20, 2014. [R. 203-210]. She alleged that she became
disabled on June 15, 2012, due to a combination of mental
health disorders and chronic pain. [R. 203, 223]. Her date
last insured was December 31, 2017. [R. 21].
application was reviewed initially and on reconsideration by
different teams, each including a medical professional and a
disability specialist; both teams determined that she was not
disabled. [R. 100-11, 113-28]. The Social Security
Administration (“SSA”) first informed Claimant
that her application had been denied on December 19, 2014.
[R. 132]. Claimant requested reconsideration of her
application on December 29, 2014, [R. 135], and the SSA
informed her of its denial upon reconsideration on April 6,
2015, [R. 136-138]. Thereafter, Claimant requested an
administrative hearing, which was held on September 2, 2016
before Administrative Law Judge Sean Teehan
(“ALJ”). [R. 20]. The ALJ issued a decision
finding that Claimant was not disabled on September 26, 2016.
[R. 33]. The SSA Appeals Council denied Claimant's
Request for Review on September 13, 2017. [R. 1-5]. On
November 14, 2017, Claimant filed a complaint with this
Court, seeking review of the Commissioner's decision
pursuant to section 205(g) of the Act. [ECF No. 1]. On April
30, 2018, Claimant filed her motion for an order reversing
the decision of the Commissioner that is before the Court,
[ECF No. 18], and the Commissioner filed her cross-motion on
June 11, 2018, [ECF No. 20].
makes two arguments for reversing the Commissioner's
decision. First, she claims that the ALJ failed to properly
evaluate the effect of her mental impairments; second, she
claims that the ALJ's credibility assessment was
deficient because it failed to consider her exemplary work
history. [ECF No. 19]. The Court will focus on the
Claimant's employment background and mental impairments
in providing an overview of this case, though the Court
recognizes and has considered the physical impairments
evidenced by the record and recognized by the ALJ's
was born on October 21, 1960 and was 55 years old when the
ALJ's decision was issued. [R. 33, 203]. She immigrated
to the United States from Iran in the mid-1980s, and received
an associate degree in computer science from Bunker Hill
Community College. From the early 1990s until 2012, Claimant
worked in various information technology jobs and had covered
earnings in all but one year. [R. 46-58, 64, 212-13, 224].
Her earnings peaked at more than $90, 000 in 1999. [R. 212].
Claimant most recently worked part-time as a consultant for a
Boston law firm, but the firm's need for her services
ceased in mid-2012, and she has not worked since. [R. 58,
224]. Claimant lives with her husband in a multifamily home
from which she derives some income in Reading, Massachusetts.
[R. 47, 65].
has a history of depression, anxiety, and alcohol dependence.
[R. 368, 377]. In October 2012, Claimant was diagnosed with
depressive disorder and alcohol dependence and was
hospitalized at North Shore Medical Center for detoxification
and to help with her depression. [R. 289-97]. Claimant
reported that she felt “extremely depressed and ha[d]
been drinking a bottle of wine and some vodka daily.”
[R. 295]. Claimant was admitted to a partial hospitalization
program at Addison Gilbert Hospital in October 2012 and again
in August 2013. [R. 304-26]. When she was discharged in
August 2013, Claimant was found to be on track with her
treatments. [R. 309].
December 2014, Claimant was evaluated by psychologist Dr.
James Munroe and diagnosed with alcohol use disorder and
major depressive mood. [R. 367-71]. Claimant had a depressed
mood, diminished interest in almost all activities,
difficulty sleeping, fatigue, and diminished ability to
concentrate and make decisions. [R. 371]. Dr. Munroe's
prognosis for Claimant was “poor, ” and he found
that Claimant's depression and alcohol use were
longstanding and chronic. Although Claimant had no
psychomotor agitation, retardation, suicidal ideation, her
insight and judgment were intact, she completed her
activities of daily living in a timely manner, was able to
reason and manage complicated family issues, and her
understanding and memory were intact despite her being
anxious and somewhat distracted, Dr. Munroe concluded that
she could benefit from more extensive mental health
treatment. [R. 367-72].
treatment records from 2015 also show Claimant had problems
with alcohol abuse, anxiety disorder, and depressive
disorder. [R. 373-485; 500-41]. Claimant was admitted to
Bayridge Hospital for her mental impairments and substance
abuse on May 12, 2015,  and received treatment from Lahey
Health Inpatient Behavioral Health Services beginning on May
27, 2015 for post-traumatic stress disorder, alcoholism
issues, and what she described as “sleeping issues,
difficulty breathing, feeling sad and hopeless about her
future and difficulty concentrating.” [R. 486-94, 497,
551-61]. As of June 23, 2015, Claimant was taking medications
for her conditions but was nonetheless experiencing anxiety,
depression, and issues with alcohol consumption. [R. 551-52].
It was recommended that she attend group and individual
therapy. [R. 559]. Progress notes from Lahey Health
demonstrate that Claimant attended an outpatient program,
received acupuncture, and found both helpful. [R. 580]. She
was able to decrease her alcohol consumption throughout June,
July and August of 2015. [R. 583, 591-94].
March 2016, Claimant had a psychiatric evaluation for
assessment and management of alcohol abuse, anxiety, and
depression. [R. 645]. Claimant reported that since May 2015,
she had been doing better and not abusing alcohol, and that
she had stopped taking her medication in January 2016. [R.
645]. Thereafter, multiple individuals close to Claimant
died, including a best friend and a sister-in-law, and her
mother had a stroke. [R. 645]. Claimant increased her alcohol
intake in January and February 2016 and was drinking a couple
times per week, about 5 drinks of vodka each time. [R. 645].
Claimant had no thoughts of hurting herself or anyone else,
her appetite and energy were normal, but ...