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Couch v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

June 3, 2019

LISA COUCH, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          F. Dennis Saylor IV United States District Judge

         This is an appeal of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“SSA”). On July 25, 2017, the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) issued a decision concluding that plaintiff Lisa Couch is not disabled. The SSA Appeals Council declined review on March 16, 2018. Couch then filed an action with this Court.

         Couch seeks reversal of the Commissioner's decision on two 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

         Lisa Couch is 38 years old. (A.R. 45). She is a high-school graduate, having completed school in a special-education program. (A.R. 46-57). She initially alleged that her disability began June 1, 2007, but subsequently amended the alleged onset date to September 21, 2015. (A.R. 49-50). She has not worked since the onset date and has no relevant past employment. (A.R. 29, 49).

         At the time of the hearing, Couch lived in a rooming house and spent her time watching television, playing on her phone, and socializing with friends. (A.R. 62-63). She participated in an arts and crafts class four to five times per week for twenty to forty minutes at a time. (A.R. 62). She also shopped for clothes, cooked simple meals, did laundry, and shopped for groceries. (A.R. 63-64).

         2. Medical History

         Couch has reported a variety of medical issues, including hypertension, gastroesophageal reflux disease, asthma, hypothyroidism, restless leg syndrome, diabetes, and pulmonary emboli, that are controlled with medication and treatment. (A.R. 19-20). In addition, she had a bunion repair on her right foot in April 2015. (A.R. 21). She also has a history of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (“ADHD”), depressive disorder, and anxiety disorder. (A.R. 24). She has taken Adderall to treat her ADHD symptoms. (Id.). She reported that her depression affected her every few days and that her anxiety affected her daily and she experienced frequent panic attacks. (Id.).

         In April 2016, Couch began treatment with Dr. Yousef Abou-Allaban. (A.R. 702). He noted obesity, loud speech, irritable affect, anger, rage, poor body image, and poor impulse control. (A.R. 702-03). Dr. Abou-Allaban diagnosed ADHD, combined presentation, at the initial visit. (A.R. 703). He continued to treat her through February 2017, and her symptoms and diagnoses remained consistent throughout treatment. (A.R. 688-704).

         In May 2016, Couch was treated on four occasions at the UMass Memorial Medical Center for lower extremity pain. (A.R. 955-86). An x-ray on May 14, 2016, showed mild prepatellar edema and a small joint effusion. (A.R. 960).

         On June 7, 2016, Dr. Nosheen Ishaque completed a medical source statement concerning Couch's back pain and arthritis. (A.R. 37-40). She concluded that Couch could stand or walk for only two hours in an eight-hour workday; would have to have her legs elevated; and could not lift twenty pounds, twist, stoop, crouch, climb stairs, or climb ladders. (A.R. 37-39). In addition, Dr. Ishaque concluded that Couch would be absent from work more than four days per month, would be unable to do even “low stress” work, and would be off-task at least 25 percent of the day. (A.R. 40). That statement was not submitted to the ALJ but was submitted to the Appeals Council. (A.R. 4).

         Nicole Gilson, a nurse practitioner at UMass Memorial Medical Center, began seeing Couch at the orthopedic clinic in July 2016. (A.R. 993). A musculoskeletal exam completed by Gilson revealed weak inversion and eversion, tenderness, and reduced plantar flexion. (Id.).

         On July 11, 2016, Dr. Abou-Allaban diagnosed generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder. (A.R. 700). He completed a medical source statement concluding that Couch suffered from mood disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and ADHD, and had depressed mood and daily panic attacks that responded only partially to treatment. (A.R. 517-21). He further concluded that she was unable to carry out short and simple instructions, maintain attention for two hours, maintain a routine without supervision, work with others without distraction, and perform consistently without unreasonably frequent rest periods. (A.R. 519). In addition, he found that she would be unable to maintain consistent attendance at work and would be absent more than four days per month, and that she would unable to deal with normal work stress. (A.R. 520).

         On August 19, 2016, Couch was seen at UMass Memorial for back pain not responding to oxycodone. (A.R. 1278). An examination revealed bilateral paraspinal lumbar tenderness. (A.R. 1282). She presented again later that month with body aches and in October 2016 for low-back pain. (A.R. 1343, 1579). In February 2017, she was seen at UMass for anxiety and at St. Vincent Hospital for pain, tenderness, and swelling in her left ankle. (A.R. 1791).

         II. Procedural History

         Couch filed a claim for disability benefits on September 21, 2015, alleging disability beginning June 1, 2007. (A.R. 17, 172-80). The SSA denied her application on February 19, 2016. (A.R. 73-113). On June 1, 2016, she requested a hearing, which was held on April 6, 2017. (A.R. 128). At the hearing, she amended her alleged onset date to ...

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