United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
ORDER ON WHITNEY'S MOTION FOR ORDER REVERSING THE
COMMISSIONER'S DECISION AND DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO
AFFIRM THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION [DOCKET NOS. 15,
JENNIFER C. BOAL UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
an action for judicial review of a final decision by the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“Commissioner”) denying Kevin Whitney's
applications for disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”) and supplemental security income
(“SSI”). Whitney asserts that the
Commissioner's decision denying him such benefits -
memorialized in an August 30, 2017 decision of an
administrative law judge (“ALJ”) - is in error,
[Docket No. 15], and the Commissioner, in turn, has moved to
affirm [Docket No. 22]. For the following reasons, this Court
remands the case to the Commissioner pursuant to sentence
four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for further findings and/or
proceedings consistent with this opinion.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
filed an application for DIB and SSI on February 26, 2015,
alleging disability beginning June 15, 2013. (Administrative
Record (“AR”) 218-33). His application identified
a bulging disc in left side of back, C-DIFF, and lumbar and
cervical degenerative issues. (AR 79, 109, 254). The
Commissioner denied his application initially (AR 107-08) and
on reconsideration. (AR 145-46). On March 24, 2017,
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Kim K. Griswold
held a hearing at which a Vocational Expert
(“VE”) and Whitney, represented by counsel,
appeared and testified. (AR 42-77). The ALJ issued a decision
on August 30, 2017 finding that Whitney was not disabled. (AR
16-36). The Appeals Council denied Whitney's request for
review on April 11, 2018, making the ALJ's decision the
final decision of the Commissioner (AR 7-9). Whitney filed
this action on May 23, 2018. Docket No. 1.
was fifty-three years old at the time of the ALJ's
decision (AR 79, 93) and was forty-nine years old on June 15,
2013, the alleged onset date. (AR 34, 93). He had past
relevant work as a disc jockey and painter. (AR 90).
10, 2012, Whitney underwent an initial psychiatric evaluation
with Bernard Szymanski, R. N.C. S., for self-reported
depression. (AR 462-467). Whitney reported poor eating,
sleeping, and concentration. (AR 462). He was prescribed with
20MG of Ritalin to be taken twice daily. (AR 467). At a
follow-up appointment on May 31, 2012, Szymanski noted that
Whitney's attention and focus were “good” and
that his response to intervention was “stable.”
14, 2013, Szymanski saw Whitney to monitor his prescription
of Ritalin. (AR 441). Whitney reported that his attention and
focus were good. Id. He also noted that he was
working and more organized. Id.
February 20, 2014, Whitney reported to Szymanski that his
attention and focus were good, that he was less anxious and
that he was working. (AR 438). Szymanski noted that, although
Whitney's ADD was improving, his depression was
worsening. (AR 434). Whitney remained on 20 mg Ritalin three
times daily and .5mg Ativan twice daily. Id.
Szymanski also prescribed Whitney with 20mg Lexapro once
daily in order to treat his depression. Id.
April 15, 2014 and June 3, 2014, Szymanski reported that
Whitney was improving moderately and symptom severity was
severe. (AR 428, 430, 432). On July 1, 2014, Szymanski
reported that Whitney was improving significantly. (AR 426).
Records from October 20, 2014 through March 9, 2015 state
that Whitney was improving moderately. (AR 418, 420, 422,
met with therapist Katherine McCloskey for an initial intake
examination on June 9, 2015. (AR 522-526). He sought therapy
for depression because his wife of 27 years had filed for
divorce and he noted having more sad days than happy ones.
(AR 522). Prior to meeting with Ms. McCloskey, Whitney had
seen a therapist one time and previously had experienced
depression following the death of his mother. Id.
initial visit, Whitney exhibited moderate impulse control,
difficulty acknowledging psychological problems, and some
impaired ability to make reasonable decisions. (AR 524-525).
However, his thought content, memory, orientation,
intellectual functioning, and affect were within normal
limits. (AR 525). Ms. McCloskey assessed Whitney with ADD
with hyperactivity and an unspecified adjustment reaction,
and further advised him to continue therapy through his
ongoing divorce in order to learn skills to cope with
depression. (AR 526). She assigned Whitney a Global
Assessment of Functioning (“GAF”) score of
16, 2015, Whitney continued to exhibit signs of depression
related to his divorce but had normal affect and thought
process. (AR 520). On June 26, 2015, Whitney reported to Ms.
McCloskey that he felt “physically sick, nauseas [sic],
overwhelmed and [had] trouble breathing” as a result of
text confrontations with his wife. (AR 517). He recently had
been prescribed a new anxiety medication. Id. Ms.
McCloskey counseled Whitney on grief and advised him on
therapeutic interventions like reflective listening and
weeks later, on July 17, 2015, Whitney described his
wife's continued verbal attacks via text message and
feelings of anger and irritability at speaking with her. (AR
512). Whitney was receptive to Ms. McCloskey's
recommendation that he set limits with his wife. Id.
In a subsequent visit on July 24, 2015, Whitney described
“crying a lot” in anticipation of visiting his
old home and acknowledged that he spent much time at home
sleeping and dwelling on the end of his marriage. (AR 510).
July and September 2015, Whitney visited Ms. McCloskey weekly
and continued to report ups and downs with his wife. (AR 502,
504, 506, 508). On September 16, 2015, Whitney reported that
his divorce had been granted on the day prior and afterwards
he had experienced a “breakdown” and became
physically ill with grief. (AR 497). He told Ms. McCloskey
that he realized his marriage was truly over and that there
was no chance of reconciliation. Id. Ms. McCloskey
helped him manage the loss. Id. Whitney reported
that he was working a few nights a week and that doing so
improved his mood. Id.
session on October 14, 2015, Whitney identified that he
frequently was “snapping” at his roommate. (AR
609). Ms. McCloskey indicated that he was projecting his
anger towards his ex-wife at his roommate. Id. Ms.
McCloskey discussed anger management strategies. Id.
November 6, 2015, Whitney reported that he had entered the
“anger” stage of his divorce. (AR 605). Ms.
McCloskey mentally prepared Whitney for an upcoming dinner
with his ex-wife, which he ultimately did not attend. (AR
saw Szymanski on November 10, 2015 for a check-up. (AR 603).
Szymanski documented Whitney's depression as moderate
severity but control status improving moderately.
Id. Whitney exhibited normal speech, logical thought
processes and reasoning, intact judgment, and normal mood and
affect. Id. Whitney was prescribed with 20mg Ritalin
to be taken four times daily. Id.
November 12, 2015, during an appointment with Ms. McCloskey,
Whitney expressed confusion at a text from his ex-wife and
continued hurt at her decision to divorce him. (AR 601). Ms.
McCloskey noted that Whitney's emotional state was
irritable and depressed. Id.
January 4, 2016, Ms. McCloskey met with Whitney upon his
return from a month-long trip to Florida to visit his ailing
father. (AR 596). Whitney relayed that his visit was positive
but identified that he has experiencing withdrawal symptoms
from tapering off Methadone. Id. Whitney thereafter
was prescribed Suboxone to aid the withdrawal but reported
feeling physically ill for several days. (AR 586).
later visit on February 1, 2016, Whitney discussed “the
significance of finding purpose in his life” and voiced
a desire to be more active. Id. Ms. McCloskey
advised him on various agencies that could help him find work
or enroll in school. Id. Whitney felt “ready
to rejoin the world.” Id.
February 22, 2016, Whitney stated that he felt better
physically but was more depressed and irritable towards his
roommate. (AR 578). Ms. McCloskey helped Whitney connect his
mood to isolation and too much time spent at home.
Id. They explored options for more socialization,
which Whitney acknowledged helped him feel better.
his following visit on March 7, 2016, Whitney reported that
he was trying to improve his relationship with his roommate
and recently had supported her following her brother's
passing. (AR 574). In sessions between March and the end of
April, Whitney discussed increased contact with his ex-wife
and expressed confusion and anxiety over their relationship.
(AR 560, 562).
April 25, 2016, Whitney reported that he had stopped taking
his medication the week prior because he felt that he did not
need it. (AR 555). He stated that within twelve hours his
depression was significant. Id. Three days later,
Whitney began taking the medication again, realizing its
importance to his wellbeing. Id.
follow-up appointment with Szymanski on July 27, 2016,
Whitney stated that he was “fine.” (AR 551).
Szymanski continued to report that Whitney's depression
was moderate in severity but improving moderately.
Id. Whitney similarly reported that he was
“fine” at an appointment with ...