United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Sorokin United States District Judge.
John Capizzi challenges a decision by the Acting Commissioner
of the Social Security Administration (“the
Commissioner”) denying his Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”) and Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”). The Commissioner seeks an order
affirming her decision. For the following reasons,
Capizzi's motion for Judgment on the Pleadings is DENIED,
and the Commissioner's Motion is ALLOWED.
October 21, 2016, at age fifty-two, Capizzi applied for SSI
and DIB, alleging a disability onset date of October 30,
2015. Doc. No. 14-2 at 14; Doc. No. 14-6 at 4. His
application was denied initially and upon reconsideration.
Doc. No. 14-3 at 64. Capizzi requested a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). Id. at
12. A hearing was held on February 5, 2018. Doc. No. 14-2 at
31. By decision on March 2, 2018, the ALJ found Capizzi was
not disabled. Id. at 11.
Appeals Council granted Capizzi's request for review, but
affirmed the ALJ's decision. Id. at 2, 8.
Capizzi filed this action appealing the Commissioner's
decision on October 1, 2018. Doc. No. 1 at 3.
Capizzi's Physical Impairment
initial claim for disability, Capizzi described persistent
pain in his right lower back and right leg through the calf
and toes, and alleged a resulting inability to work due to
difficulty sitting, standing, and concentrating for long
periods of time. Doc. No. 14-2 at 1; Doc. No. 14-3 at 4. The
record contains the following relevant evidence regarding his
• Following an October 17, 2013 MRI, neurologist Martin
Bielawski noted Capizzi's prominent spinal scoliosis and
disc degeneration. Doc. No. 14-7 at 27.
• On September 16, 2015, Capizzi was referred for
physical therapy (“PT”) after complaining of
intolerable back pain to his primary care physician.
Id. at 2. From September through December 2015,
Capizzi attended fifteen PT sessions with good results and
was discharged as symptoms improved. Doc. No. 14-3 at 11.
• From October 2015 until February 2016, Capizzi met
with Dr. Bielawski four times. On October 9, 2015, Dr.
Bielawski prescribed medication for Capizzi's pain,
noting persistent back pain and increased painful symptoms
with prolonged standing and walking. Doc. No. 14-8 at 69. On
November 19, 2015, Dr. Bielawski increased the prescription,
added another medication, and recommended core exercises for
PT after Capizzi complained of increased discomfort from
sitting, right leg pain, and numbness in the right toes. Doc.
No. 14-3 at 13; Doc. No. 14-8 at 67.
• On January 7, 2016, Capizzi again reported increasing
lower back and right leg pain. Doc. No. 14-7 at 50. Dr.
Bielawski noted power in the legs were normal and the right
leg was not clearly weak, though it tired more easily, and
referred Capizzi to a pain management clinic to consider
spinal steroid injections and a new MRI. Id. The
updated MRI revealed no significant change compared to 2013.
Id. at 24-25; see Doc. No. 14-7 at 24-25.
• On February 2, 2016, Capizzi reported his medications
were helpful, but said his pain was unchanged. Doc. No. 14-7
• On February 24, 2016, Dr. Janet Pearl administered a
steroid injection. Id. at 207. At a March 9, 2016
follow-up, Capizzi reported 80% pain relief in the right leg,
resolved burning sensation in the foot, and improved lower
back pain. Id. at 204. Around the same time, Capizzi
also reported no significant side effects using medication.
Doc. No. 14-8 at 63.
• On May 5, 2016, Capizzi reported more frequent and
increased pain and requested another injection, but noted he
still was 60-70% improved. Doc. No.14-7 at 201.
• On May 16, 2016, Capizzi received his second steroid
injection. Id. at 199. He reported that his pain
improved 75%, but felt the first injection had been more
effective. Id. On June 6, 2016, Dr. Bielawski opined
Capizzi's lower back pain would wax and wane. Doc. No.
14-8 at 61. He noted persistent lower back pain with
intermittent pain down the right thigh and calf, with no
numbness or tingling in the right leg, intermittent numbness
in the right calf, but some pinching and numbness in the
great right toe area. Id. He noted no change in
power in the legs and no significant side effects of
medication. Id. Dr. Bielawski recommended
conservative treatment including pool therapy to maintain
weight and discussed surgical treatments, providing referral
information. Id. at 62.
• On July 12, 2016, Dr. Shapur Ameri provided a
neurological surgery consultation. Doc. No. 14-3 at 12.
Capizzi complained of lower back pain radiating to the right
leg since September 2015, with additional complaints of
numbness and tingling sensations in the right thigh down to
his ankle but denied any weakness. Doc. No. 14-7 at 16. Dr.
Ameri diagnosed Capizzi with lower back pain due to spinal
scoliosis and degenerative disc disease. Id. at 17.
Dr. Ameri advised Capizzi to continue pain management and
steroid injections and, if pain persisted, to consider
surgery. Id. He further advised against heavy
lifting or strenuous exercise, and to apply heat and ice.
• On July 14, 2016, Capizzi received his third steroid
injection. Doc. No. 14-8 at 59. During a follow-up on July
28, 2016, Capizzi reported his pain was 85% improved, with
this injection providing greater relief than the previous
one. Doc. No. 14-7 at 193. He also reported intermittent
tingling and pinching in his toes and said his calf pain was
less frequent and intense. Id. On September 15,
2016, Capizzi described significant pain reduction for two
weeks after the injection, pain the third week, and
diminished pain the fourth week. Doc. No. 14-8 at 59. He was
advised to continue conservative treatment, and to receive
another injection if pain persisted. Doc. No. 14-3 at 12.
• On August 29, 2016, Capizzi reported 60-70% pain
relief with current medication, no side effects, and no
weakness in legs. Id. at 189-90.
• On September 15, 2016, Dr. Bielawski noted waxing and
waning symptoms, with the worst pain in the right lower back
region radiating into the thigh and calf. Doc. No. 14-8 at
59. He noted intermittent right leg pain but no ...