United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
J. Casper United States District Judge
Kathleen Ferguson (“Ferguson”) applied for
disability insurance benefits (“SSDI”) and
supplemental security income (“SSI”) with the
Social Security Administration (“SSA”) on March
18, 2014. Following denial of her claims, pursuant to the
procedures set forth in the Social Security Act, 5 U.S.C.
§ 706, 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3),
Ferguson brought this action for judicial review of the final
decision of Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill (“the
Commissioner”), Acting Commissioner of the SSA, issued
by an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on April
24, 2017. Before the Court are Ferguson's motion to
reverse, D. 16, and the Commissioner's motion to affirm
that decision, D. 18. For the reasons discussed below, the
Court DENIES Ferguson's motion to reverse and ALLOWS the
Commissioner's motion to affirm.
Standard of Review
Court has the power to affirm, modify or reverse a decision
of the Commissioner upon review of the pleadings and record.
42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Such review, however, is
“limited to determining whether the ALJ deployed the
proper legal standards and found facts upon the proper
quantum of evidence.” Nguyen v. Chater, 172
F.3d 31, 35 (1st Cir. 1999) (citing Manso-Pizarro v.
Sec'y of Health and Human Servs., 76 F.3d 15, 16
(1st Cir. 1996)). Issues of credibility and inferences drawn
from the facts on record are committed to the Commissioner,
who ultimately resolves conflicts in the evidence and
determines the disability status of the claimant. Lizotte
v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 654 F.2d 127,
128 (1st Cir. 1981) (internal citation omitted). The
ALJ's findings of fact are conclusive when supported by
substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Substantial
evidence exists “if a reasonable mind, reviewing the
evidence in the record as a whole, could accept it as
adequate to support [the Commissioner's]
conclusion.” Rodriguez v. Sec'y of Health and
Human Servs., 647 F.2d 218, 222 (1st Cir. 1981). As
such, the Court must affirm the Commissioner's decision
if it is supported by substantial evidence, Am. Textile
Mfrs. Inst., Inc. v. Donovan, 452 U.S. 490, 523 (1981),
“even if the record arguably could justify a different
conclusion.” Pagan v. Sec'y of Health &
Human Servs., 819 F.2d 1, 3 (1st Cir. 1987).
was fifty years old when she ceased working on January 31,
2014. R. 199, 430.She had previously worked as a nurse's
assistant, bookkeeper and then as a house cleaner/caregiver.
March 18, 2014 application for SSDI and SSI with the Social
Security Administration (“SSA”), Ferguson claimed
disability due to severe bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome,
spurs and worsening pain in her feet, pain in her left knee
and mental illness. R. 194, 413.
Bilateral Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
has been treated for carpal tunnel syndrome. R. 203. Ferguson
visited South Shore Orthopedics LLC (“South
Shore”) on December 30, 2015. R. 747. During this
visit, John Kadzielski, M.D. discussed the results of an EMG
test from August 25, 2015, which indicated severe bilateral
carpal tunnel syndrome in the upper extremities. R. 747. Dr.
Kadzielski ordered an injection in the right hand, which was
performed on December 30, 2015, and a left carpal tunnel
release surgery, which was done on January 5, 2016. R.
747-49. In a follow up appointment on January 20, 2016, Dr.
Kadzielski noted that Ferguson was doing well after the
surgery and saw improving “paresthesias of the left
median nerve distribution.” R. 751. Ferguson indicated
that the surgery went well and that she felt less pain in her
left hand. R. 203.
underwent an x-ray from Victor Valley Advanced Imaging on
October 29, 2013 that showed there was no “definite
fractures or sublaxations” and that there was
“straightening of the cervical lordosis, ”
resulting in a diagnosis of degenerative joint disease. R.
952, 977. The internal medicine consultation from MedPro
Services Inc. (“MedPro”) on July 24, 2014 noted a
tenderness in Ferguson's lumbar spine and knees but also
that the range of motion of her back and knees was within
normal limits. R. 679. Over a year later, on September 15,
2015, Chris Sambaziotis, M.D. an orthopedic surgeon,
evaluated Ferguson for her left knee pain. R. 884. Dr.
Sambaziotis noted that Ferguson reported mild pain that
worsened with ambulation and presented treatment options such
as physical therapy, activity modification, weight loss,
steroid injection and total knee replacement. R. 886.
Ferguson also had an x-ray of her foot on June 17, 2016 which
found “mild degenerative changes” and
“plantar calcaneal spur.” R. 899, 901, 903.
has also been treated for thyroid disorder. R. 680. When
Ferguson was first diagnosed with Graves' Disease, a
disease causing hypothyroidism,  she lost one hundred pounds.
R. 784. She underwent treatment with radioactive iodine in
2004. R. 680. She receives radioiodine treatment and is on
levothyroxine to treat her hypothyroidism. R. 680, 784.
losing her mother and three sisters over a period of three
years, Ferguson has consistently seen mental health
professionals. R. 659. On February 12, 2014, Ferguson was
admitted to Arrowhead Regional Medical Center
(“Arrowhead”) for mood disorder, R. 654, 659,
stabilized with medicine and discharged on February 14, 2014,
R. 657-58. Ferguson received outpatient counseling from Mary
Hopwood, NP at Granite Medical Group (“Granite”).
R. 1188. Granite records indicate that Ferguson was diagnosed
with bipolar disorder and had manic and depressive episodes.
See, e.g., R. 784, 1188. In a MedPro consultation,
dated July 24, 2014, Dr. Karamlou also records that Ferguson
had been taking twenty-five milligrams of Lamotrigine and
Seroquel to help treat her mental conditions. R. 677.
Voglmaier, Ph.D., evaluated Ferguson and performed
neuropsychological testing at Nova Psychiatric Service
(“NPS”) on June 5, 2016 and August 16, 2016. R.
1046. She noted characteristics such as disorganized speech
and difficulty recovering following error, R. 1143,
Ferguson's ability to sustain attention was impaired. R.
saw her treating psychiatrist, Andrey Gagarin, M.D.,
beginning in July 2015. R. 208-09. Dr. Gagarin reported, in a
December 2016 letter, that Ferguson has Post-traumatic Stress
Disorder, Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder,
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and major depression. R. 1185.
The letter further noted that Ferguson's mental health
conditions manifest in rapid speech, compulsive activities,
hyperactive behavior, disturbed sleep, lack of energy and
lack of interest in her daily activities. Id. Dr.
Gagarin concluded that he “foresee[s] her mental health
conditions lasting more than 12 months.” R. 1186.
had a “fobi pouch” procedure, a form of gastric
bypass surgery, in 1996. R. 863. Because she had a weight
loss procedure done before she was told that “she would
not be a candidate for another weight loss procedure.”
R. 779, 963.
Before the ALJ
January 6, 2017 administrative hearing, the ALJ heard
testimony from Ferguson and James Soldner, a vocational
expert (“VE”). R. 186.