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Narvaez v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

March 27, 2019

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



         This is an appeal of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“SSA”). On May 20, 2016, the ALJ issued a decision concluding that plaintiff Nelida Narvaez had been disabled since May 1, 2016, and not earlier. The SSA Appeals Council declined review on June 2, 2017. Narvaez then filed an action with this Court.

         Narvaez seeks reversal of the Commissioner's decision on four grounds. The Commissioner has moved to affirm the decision. For the reasons stated below, the decision will be affirmed.

         I. Background

         A. Factual Background

         1. Personal History

         Nelida Narvaez was 45 years old on June 7, 2012, the date she contends that her disability began. (A.R. 542). She graduated from high school and attended two years of college. (A.R. 555). She has been unemployed since August 2012, when she stopped working as a data clerk specialist at the New Bedford Housing Authority and part-time as a cashier at a Shaw's Supermarket. (A.R. 545). She had previously worked as a cashier, a receptionist, a file clerk, and a customer service representative. (A.R. 581).

         2. Medical History

         Narvaez has a lengthy medical record. She has reported pain in her back since 1991 and has received treatment for a variety of physical and mental health problems, including chronic pain syndrome. (A.R. 875).[1]

         In late 2011, Narvaez complained of back pain to her primary-care provider, Dr. Anne Marie Treadup. (A.R. 829). Dr. Treadup referred her to a physiatrist, Dr. Sergey Wortman, for pain management. (A.R. 730).

         Dr. Wortman began seeing Narvaez on an approximately monthly basis. He first examined her in January 2012. (Id.). He noted three impressions at that visit: (1) that she suffered from bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome, (2) that she had possible lumbar and cervical spondylosis, and (3) that she had possible localized lumbar and cervical disc protrusions/herniations. (A.R. 730-31). Dr. Wortman prescribed Percocet (a painkiller containing a combination of an opioid and acetaminophen) and Mobic (a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug). (Id.).

         In the spring of 2012, Narvaez received an x-ray and an MRI of her back. (A.R. 719, 727). Dr. Wortman noted that the tests revealed evidence of mild spondylosis, a small disc protrusion, and facet joint hypertrophy in her spine. (A.R. 719-20, 727-28). Dr. Wortman also had Narvaez undergo a nerve conduction study, which revealed evidence of moderate carpal tunnel syndrome. (A.R. 719-20).[2]

         In June 2012, after Narvaez reported worsening pain, Dr. Wortman prescribed 100 mg/day of Lyrica (a nerve pain medication). (A.R. 759-60).

         In July and August 2012, Narvaez complained of knee pain to Dr. Wortman.

         In September 2012, Narvaez received x-rays of both of her knees. The x-ray of the left knee was normal, and the x-ray of the right knee revealed only minimal degenerative changes. (A.R. 887).

         Narvaez continued to take various drugs for pain, including Percocet, Neurontin (a nerve pain medication), and Mobic. In November 2012, Dr. Treadup saw Narvaez and noted that she felt that “a lot of [her] pain [was] from . . . narcotics . . . and narcotic withdrawal.” (A.R. 873). Dr. Treadup recommended that she “come off of narcotics or talk to Dr. Wortman about” a prescription for a long-acting narcotic. (Id.). Later that month, Dr. Wortman prescribed 50 mg/day of Oxycontin and continued her on Neurontin and Mobic. (A.R. 884-85).

         Narvaez saw Dr. Wortman a month later, on December 19, 2012. She continued to complain of pain, and Dr. Wortman increased her Oxycontin prescription to 60 mg/day. (A.R. 881-82).

         In January 2013, Narvaez received an MRI of her left knee. The radiologist noted impressions of mild runner's knee and a minor joint effusion. (A.R. 879). Dr. Wortman noted that the MRI revealed mild osteoarthritis. (A.R. 877).

         Dr. Wortman continued to see Narvaez regularly. Although she frequently complained of pain, she repeatedly refused Dr. Wortman's suggestions that she receive cortisone injections to help manage it. (A.R. 1354).

         On October 13 and/or 14, 2014, Narvaez visited the emergency room for bilateral knee pain. An examining physician's assistant recommended icing the area and using an Ace bandage for support. She also prescribed Motrin for pain and Percocet for severe pain, as well as a cane to assist in walking. (A.R. 1371-72).

         In May 2015, Narvaez tore the medial meniscus in her left knee. (A.R. 1331). She underwent arthroscopic surgery on June 23, 2015. By October 2015, she was apparently able to walk normally, except on her heels or toes. (A.R. 1380).

         II. Procedural History

         Narvaez filed a claim for disability benefits in August 2012. (A.R. 234). At that time, she contended that she was suffering from, among other things, a disc protrusion, fibromyalgia, carpal tunnel syndrome, and rheumatoid arthritis. She contended that her disability had begun on June 7, 2012. (Id.).

         On November 16, 2012, the SSA concluded that Narvaez was not disabled. (A.R. 324-27). She filed a request for reconsideration. (A.R. 332-33). On April 2, 2013, the SSA concluded that its earlier ...

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