United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
MEMORANDUM & ORDER
NATHANIEL M. GORTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Caterino (“Caterino” or “plaintiff”)
seeks judicial review of the denial of her application for
disability insurance benefits by Nancy A. Berryhill
(“the Commissioner” or “defendant”),
the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“the SSA”). Pending before the Court are
plaintiff's motion to reverse or remand the
Commissioner's decision (Docket No. 14) and
defendant's motion to affirm that decision (Docket No.
18). For the reasons that follow, plaintiff's motion will
be denied and the Commissioner's motion will be allowed.
Employment History and Alleged Disability
was born in 1965. She completed 12 years of school. Her late
husband owned a company that installed bathtubs and glazed
tiles. She was the bookkeeper for that company and also
helped her husband move materials to and from vans. At some
point before 2014, plaintiff's husband died.
14, 2014, the alleged onset date for purposes of her
application for disability insurance benefits, Caterino went
to New England Neurological Associates and was seen by Dr.
Arya Farahmand. Caterino had been treated by Dr. Farahmand
for migraine headaches two years before. She again complained
of migraines, severe neck pain that radiated down her right
shoulder and occasional numbness in her right hand and
fingers. Upon examination, Dr. Farahmand determined that she
had normal strength and sensation in her arms. Dr. Farahmand,
nevertheless, ordered an MRI which was done in August, 2014.
It revealed several disc herniations. At about the same time,
Caterino also began complaining of numbness in her left arm
and hand. Dr. Farahmand referred her to an orthopedic surgeon
for a second opinion.
August, 2014, plaintiff met with Dr. Joseph Weistroffer and
complained of right-sided neck pain and numbness that
radiated down her left arm into her fingers. She also
reported that her migraine headaches and neck pain had
worsened over the previous two months. Dr. Weistroffer noted
that plaintiff had significant bilateral stenosis at two of
her discs which could have caused her pain. Upon examination,
Caterino demonstrated a normal range of motion of her neck
and shoulders and full strength and intact sensation in her
arms. The doctor offered her injections to manage the pain
and surgery if the injections were ineffective.
November, 2014, plaintiff saw Dr. Farahmand again, reporting
significant improvement in her headaches but noting pain when
she moved her head and neck. She displayed no abnormalities
in her extremities or focal neurological deficits. Dr.
Farahmand administered an injection to further alleviate her
next saw Dr. Farahmand in February, 2015. She reported that
the earlier injection had relieved her pain for several
months but that it had gradually recurred over the right side
of her neck and head. She also reported that her migraine
headaches were generally under control.
April, 2015, Caterino met with Dr. Farahmand again. She
reported that her headaches and her pain had improved after
beginning a new medication, Topomax. Upon examination, she
displayed no abnormalities in her extremities or focal
neurological deficits. Dr. Farahmand prescribed a low dose of
propanol to alleviate her migraines. That was Caterino's
last medical appointment before her eligibility for
disability insurance benefits expired on April 30, 2015.
State Physician Medical Opinions
doctors rendered opinions as to plaintiff's residual
functional capacity (“RFC”), meaning her ability
to perform physical and mental work activities on a sustained
basis despite the limitations from her impairments. Both
doctors were state agency physicians.
Robin Tapper performed a review of Caterino's
then-existing medical record in June, 2015, and Dr. John
Benanti did the same in September, 2015. Both doctors
indicated that Caterino has exertional limitations of 1)
lifting and/or carrying no more than 20 pounds occasionally
and no more than 10 pounds frequently and 2) standing,
sitting or walking no more than six hours out of an
eight-hour workday. Both doctors agreed that Caterino has
additional postural limitations with respect to 1) climbing
ramps, stairs, ladders, ropes and scaffolds, 2) balancing, 3)
stooping, 4) crouching and 5) crawling.
doctor found that Caterino had manipulative limitations. Dr.
Benanti specifically found that, based on her medical
records, Caterino had no neurological deficits and her hand
movements were normal despite her neck and shoulder pain.
Based on their assessments of plaintiff's physical RFC,
the doctors both concluded that she is able to perform light
Subsequent Medical History
Caterino's last date of eligibility, she has continued to
receive treatment from various doctors for her neck pain and
related issues. In July, 2015, images from a thoracic MRI
indicated moderate changes of cervical spondylosis in several
of the discs in her neck and mild degeneration of the lower
thoracic disc spaces. At about that time, she reported
increased neck and right arm pain and several new problems,
including 1) a burning sensation in her abdomen that radiated
to her right leg and 2) low back, hip and leg pain. In August
and September, 2015, Caterino underwent physical therapy for
pain in her back and hip with little to no improvement in her
pain levels. She continued to see Dr. Farahmand periodically
for her chronic migraines, neck and back pain and also
received numerous injections, including several to her lumbar
March, 2016, plaintiff had neck surgery to repair her
herniated disc and spinal stenosis. She reported improvement
with respect to her arm pain in the three and a half months
that followed that surgery and she engaged in physical
therapy to deal with general weakness in her arms. In August,
2016, however, Caterino reported to Dr. Farahmand a new
complaint of abnormal sensation, swelling and numbness in her
legs and Dr. Farahmand noted, for the first time, the
possibility that Caterino had some degree of fibromyalgia.
October, 2016, plaintiff's neck surgeon reported that she
had experienced minimal reduction of the pain in her neck and
right arm, even after surgery and physical therapy. She also
told her surgeon that she had been diagnosed with
fibromyalgia. Her surgeon noted, however, that it was unclear
how much the recently diagnosed fibromyalgia contributed to
her pain. In November and December, 2016, plaintiff met with
a rheumatologist who determined that there was no evidence of
a rheumatological autoimmune disease, such as lupus, but also
suggested myalgia as a possible diagnosis. In January, 2017,
Dr. Farahmand reiterated his suspicion that Caterino was
suffering from fibromyalgia due to her history of migraines
and chronic pain.
February, 2017, plaintiff met with Dr. Salony Mujmudar, a
rheumatologist in Dr. Farahmand's office, who indicated
that plaintiff had demonstrated loss of motion and constant
throbbing pain ...