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Smith v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

April 1, 2019

APRIL A. SMITH, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL,[1] Deputy Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Defendant.


          Timothy S. Hillman United States District Judge

         This is an action for judicial review of a final decision by the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (the “Commissioner” or “SSA”) denying the application of April A. Smith (“Plaintiff) for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits. This Memorandum of Decision and Order addresses Plaintiff s Motion To Reverse Or Remand The Decision Of the Commissioner Of Social Security (Docket No. 20) and the Motion To Affirm The Commissioner's Decision (Docket No. 27). For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion is granted and Plaintiffs motion is denied.


         The parties are familiar with the factual history of this case, the standard of review, and the applicable five-step sequential analysis. Accordingly, the court will review the procedural and substantive history of the case as it relates to the arguments set forth by the claimant, Smith.

         On February 24, 2014, Smith protectively filed an application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits, and an application for supplemental security income, alleging disability beginning December 18, 2012. On May 16, 2014, Smith completed a disability report in which stated that the only physical and mental conditions (including emotional or learning problems) that limit her ability to work were three physical conditions: fibromyalgia, back pain and migraines. (AR. 231). On September 9, 2014, Smith completed a Function Report in which she alleged that she had been diagnosed with fibromyalgia and that her symptoms include: muscle weakness; neck, wrist, finger and shoulder pain; headaches/migraines; vertigo, nausea, and dizziness; chronic fatigue; lower back, hip and knee pain; impaired concentration, understanding and memory; cognitive loss; and depression and anxiety. (Id., at 259-66). Smith had worked, despite these symptoms, until she suffered a fall in December 2012, which led to an increase in the intensity of her body pain such that she could no longer perform activities of daily living “independently, appropriately, effectively[, ] and on a sustained basis.”. (Id., at 266). Smith further reported that she could not walk, sit or stand more than 20-30 minutes without becoming exhausted, and that in a typical week, she had 3 bad days, 3 medium days and 1 good day. Moreover, on bad days, she basically could do nothing, and even on “good” days, she had to lie down and rest for about 2 hours during the course of the day. (Id., at 259, 266). Smith's claims were denied on October 20, 2014.

         On February 12, 2015, smith completed a second Function Report (Id. at 275-82), in which her responses were substantially identical to her responses in previous Function Report, except that she alleged that since September 2014, she had developed “urinary frequency issues” and her anxiety and depression had worsened. (Id., at 276, 282). Her claims were denied on reconsideration on June 5, 2015. Smith then filed a request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), which was held on February 18, 2016. On February 29, 2016, the ALJ denied her claim. Smith appealed the ALJ's decision; on May 31, 2016, the Appeals Council denied her request for review.

         The ALJ's Findings[3]

         The ALJ concluded that Smith has not been under a disability, within the meaning of the Social Security Act (“Act”) from December 12, 2012 through the date of the decision (February 29, 2016). In so holding, the ALJ applied the familiar five-step sequential evaluation process for determining whether an individual is disabled. The ALJ made the following findings:

1. Smith meets the insured status requirements of the Act through December 31, 2017.
2. Smith has not engaged in substantial gainful activity since December 18, 2012 (the alleged onset date).
3. Smith has the following severe impairments: fibromyalgia, headaches, major depression, intellectual development disorder, panic disorder, opiate abuse in early remission, and cocaine abuse in early remission.
4. Smith does not have an impairment or combination of impairments that meets or medically equals the severity of one of the listed impairments. More specifically, with regards to Smith's fibromyalgia, she does not suffer symptoms which meet the necessary requirements for the applicable listing. As to her mental impairments, she only has moderate restrictions in regards to her daily living, as she is capable of partake in several activities, such as preparing her own meals, clean, wash laundry and iron on good days, drive, and shop in stores for basic necessities. The ALJ further found that Smith has moderate difficulties with respect to social functioning and concentration, persistence and pace, and has not had any episodes of decompensation of extended duration. Given these findings, the ALJ determined that Smith does not meet the “paragraph B” or “paragraph C” criteria for mental impairment. The ALJ separately examined Smith meets the “paragraph C” criteria for mental impairment and concluded that she does not.
5. Smith has the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform sedentary work, with specified limitations on lifting, carrying, standing and walking during the workday, as well as climbing, balancing and stooping. Smith must avoid, kneeling, crouching, crawling, hazards and interactions with the public. Smith is limited to unskilled work, in a low stress setting and to work that requires dealing with things rather than people.
While the ALJ found that Smith's medically determinable impairments could be expected to cause the alleged debilitating symptoms of which she complained, the ALJ did not find Smith entirely credible regarding the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of such symptoms. More specifically, the ALJ found significant inconsistencies between Smith's subjective allegations in disability reports and function reports, her hearing testimony and the record medical evidence. The ALJ further found that Smith has provided inconsistent information regarding her drug abuse to examining sources and to the ALJ. The ALJ also found that the medical evidence of record, while confirming a history of the mental disabilities of which Smith complains, does not reveal a treatment history consistent with what one would expect to find for a totally disabled individual-she has not had frequent treatment or hospital visits due to psychiatric episodes, and does not receive any psychiatric counseling for her alleged depression or panic disorder. The ALJ also went into a detailed analysis of the medical records relating to Smith's physical symptoms, and her alleged substance abuse problems and detailed ...

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