United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
URSOLA P. KELLY, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
ALLISON D. BURROUGHS U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE
Ursola Kelly (“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 (the
“Commissioner”) denying her claim for Social
Security Disability Insurance (“SSDI”) benefits.
Currently pending before the Court are Claimant's motion
to reverse the Commissioner's decision denying her
disability benefits, [ECF No. 13], and the Commissioner's
cross-motion for an order affirming the decision, [ECF No.
14]. 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 [ECF No. 13] and
ALLOWS the Commissioner's motion to affirm [ECF
Statutory and Regulatory Framework: Five-Step Process to
Evaluate Disability Claims
“The Social Security Administration is the federal
agency charged with administering both the Social Security
disability 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. §§
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. See 42 U.S.C. §
1382c(a)(3)(B); 20 C.F.R. § 416.905.
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 SSDI benefits on April 2, 2015. [R.
217]. She alleges that she became disabled on
May 1, 2011 due to multiple sclerosis (“MS”),
anxiety, and obsessive compulsive disorder. [R. 15]. Her date
last insured was December 31, 2015. [R. 13].
Social Security Administration (“SSA”) initially
denied her claim on October 15, 2015 and denied the claim
upon reconsideration on March 1, 2016. [R. 141,
145]. Claimant's application was reviewed
initially, and on reconsideration, by state agency medical
consultants, who determined that she was not disabled. [R.
requested an administrative hearing, which was held on March
13, 2017 before Administrative Law Judge Alexander Klibaner
(“ALJ”). [R. 35]. Claimant, who was represented
by counsel, appeared and testified at the hearing. [R.
40-63]. On June 15, 2017, the ALJ issued a decision in which
he found that Claimant was not disabled. [R. 22]. On February
12, 2018, the SSA Appeals Council denied Claimant's
Request for Review. [R. 1]. On April 12, 2018, Claimant filed
a timely complaint with this Court and sought review of the
Commissioner's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
205(g). [ECF No. 1 at 1]. On September 30, 2018, Claimant
filed a motion for an order reversing the decision of the
Commissioner, [ECF No. 13], and on November 1, 2018, the
Commissioner filed a cross-motion for an order affirming the
decision of the Commissioner, [ECF No. 14].
was 39 years old when the ALJ's decision was issued.
See [R. 40]. She stopped going to school around the
tenth grade, but continued her schooling at home until she
received the equivalent of a high school diploma.
[Id.]. From 2002 until 2010, Claimant worked as a
banquet server and a certified nursing assistant
(“CNA”). [R. 51-52]. Although the alleged onset
date of her disability is May 1, 2011, Claimant stopped
working in June 2010, two months before she was due to give
birth to her second child. [ECF No. 13-1 at 1; R. 242].
Between May 1, 2011 and December 31, 2015, the date last
insured, Claimant was not gainfully employed. [R. 15]. She
lives with her husband and two children in Attleboro,
Massachusetts. [R. 40].
Claimant has a long history of fatigue and an MS diagnosis
that predates the alleged May 2011 onset of her disability by
several years, the Court begins with the medical evidence
from around the date of the alleged onset. See [R.
368]. An April 2011 MRI showed that Claimant's lesions, a
common symptom of MS, appeared to have become more numerous
as compared to a March 2008 MRI, although increased image
resolution was a possible cause. [R. 396]. A March 2012 MRI
revealed similar lesions. [R. 402].
September 2012, Claimant met with a neurologist from Angels
Neurological Centers. [R. 384]. Claimant reported that she
had not had any flare ups of her MS for over a year and a
half, but that her legs had begun to feel heavier, she was
more tired, and she was having difficulty chasing her
two-year-old. [Id.]. The neurologist noted
Claimant's symptoms as weakness and fatigue, and they
discussed potential symptoms of MS, including pain and memory
loss, which Claimant denied experiencing. [ECF No. 13-1 at 3;
R. 384-86]. In October 2012, another MRI showed results
similar to Claimant's April 2011 and March 2012 MRIs, and
Claimant's neurological and motor examinations were
normal. [R. 404-13].
March 2013, Claimant returned to her neurologist and reported
weakness and fatigue. [R. 410]. In July 2013, Claimant again
complained of fatigue but denied neurological or
psychological symptoms and was instructed to continue taking
medication she had been prescribed to stay awake. [R.
416-17]. In November 2013, a nurse practitioner noted that
Claimant was “[c]linically doing well, except for
fatigue” and that Claimant was going to try switching
her medication to Adderall. [R. 440, 443].
January 2014, at the request of the Commissioner, Dr. Marnee
Colburn performed a consultative examination on Claimant
following the claim for SSDI benefits. [ECF No. 13-1 at 4; R.
77-78]. Dr. Colburn noted that Claimant described symptoms
consistent with obsessive compulsive disorder as well as
infrequent panic attacks. [R. 480]. Dr. Colburn assessed that
Claimant “does not appear to have [anxiety] symptoms
that are substantially difficult for her at this time,
” but noted that Claimant could “benefit from
treatment for her mental conditions.” [R. 480-81].
Finally, Dr. Colburn stated that Claimant's primary
difficulties appear “somatic in nature (multiple
sclerosis).” [R. 480].
March 2014, Claimant again complained of fatigue to a nurse
practitioner, which Claimant attributed to the Adderall that
had helped relieve her fatigue initially but had stopped
working. [R. 482]. In April 2014, Claimant told her
neurologist that she was experiencing facial numbness, leg
weakness, continued fatigue, and difficulty walking. [R.
487-88]. For the most part, Claimant's neurological and
motor examinations were normal, and her MS was stable
although she had mild symptoms. [R. 489-90].
2014, Claimant again saw her primary care physician and
reported fatigue and numbness. [R. 507-10]. In September
2014, Claimant also described trouble word finding, fatigue,
muscle weakness and stiffness, and difficulty walking. [R.
582-83]. Claimant said that she had “good and bad
days” and that her leg weakness was exacerbated by the
heat, but that her facial numbness had resolved.
January 2015, Claimant's neurologist conducted another
MRI, and Claimant again reported that she had good and bad
days, weakness, difficulty word finding, and that she was
continuing to use Adderall to help with her fatigue. [R.
608]. Although Claimant also reported muscle cramps, muscle
weakness, stiffness, tremors, and difficulty walking, her
neurological and motor examinations were normal. [R.
February 2015, Claimant began physical therapy where her
medical issues were listed as trunk weakness, hip weakness,
easily fatigued, and decreased walking distance. [R. 613].
Claimant indicated that her primary concern was her
“[a]mount of fatigue with daily activities.” [R.