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Capizzi v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

September 4, 2019



          Leo T. Sorokin United States District Judge.

         Salvatore 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.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural History

         On 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.

         The 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.

         B. Capizzi's Physical Impairment

         In his 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 impairment:

• 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 at 209.
• 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. Id.
• 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 ...

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