Tresh v. Social Security Administation et al
Judge Nathaniel M. Gorton: ENDORSED ORDER entered. MEMORANDUM AND ORDERIn accordance with the foregoing, plaintiffs motion to reverse the decision of the Commissioner (Docket No. 20) is DENIED and defendants motion to affirm the decision of the Commissioner (Docket No. 24) is ALLOWED.(Caruso, Stephanie)
United States District Court
District of Massachusetts
STEPHANIE WALLACE TRESH,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN,
Civil Action No.
MEMORANDUM & ORDER
Pro se plaintiff Stephanie Tresh (“plaintiff” or “Tresh”)
filed this action appealing the denial of her application for
disability benefits against defendant Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“the
This Court will treat plaintiff’s letter to the
Court (Docket No. 20) dated April 24, 2017, purporting to be a
status report, as a motion to reverse the decision of the
Also pending before the Court is defendant’s
motion to affirm.
For the reasons that follow, the motion to
reverse will be denied and the motion to affirm will be allowed.
Employment History and Alleged Disability
Tresh was born in 1967 and resides in Massachusetts.
high school, Tresh worked as an accounting assistant, office
assistant and office manager full time while taking college
courses at night.
After earning her associate’s degree in
marketing and design, she worked as an intern web designer and
later as a full time employee.
After obtaining her bachelor’s
degree in business management, she worked as a web designer for
Tresh explains that, in 2005, while she was pregnant with
her second child, she began experiencing back pain.
she was diagnosed as having a herniated disc.
She was treated
with steroid shots which made the pain more bearable but did not
resolve her symptoms completely.
According to Tresh, in 2006 she was also diagnosed with
rheumatoid arthritis (“RA”) and, although it was treated, she
still had daily joint pain.
She was further found to suffer
from fibromyalgia and Reynaud disease, apparently related to her
After her second child was born, Tresh began experiencing
migraine headaches which resulted in vomiting and sensitivity to
Tresh explains that she went to emergency rooms for the
migraines because intravenous medication was the only successful
In 2011, she was hospitalized for complex migraines.
Plaintiff asserts that, because of her health problems and
her caretaking responsibilities for two young children, she quit
She has allegedly tried several treatment
regimens for her various ailments with only moderate or
In December, 2012, plaintiff filed an application for
Social Security disability insurance (“SSDI”) benefits under
Title II of the Social Security Act in which she alleges that
she became disabled in November, 2007 because of the ailments
In February, 2013, the Social Security
Administration (“SSA”) denied her claim and the following August
her claim was again denied after reconsideration.
Plaintiff filed a request for a hearing in October, 2013.
A hearing was held before Administrative Law Judge Eric Eklund
Plaintiff was represented by counsel.
impartial vocational expert also testified at the hearing.
ALJ found that plaintiff was not disabled as defined by the
Social Security Act (“the Act”). 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
timely filed a request for review with the Appeals Council.
That request was denied in November, 2015, rendering the ALJ's
determination a final decision subject to judicial review. See
Da Rosa v. Sec’y of Health & Human Servs., 803 F.2d 24, 25 (1st
Plaintiff filed her complaint with this Court in April,
The Commissioner filed a motion to dismiss for lack of
prosecution in April, 2017.
Plaintiff’s status report filed in
June, 2017, referred to above, is treated as a motion to reverse
the Commissioner’s decision.
affirm in July, 2017.
The Commissioner filed a motion to
Both motions are the subject of this
Social Security Disability Insurance Appeal
The Act gives United States District Courts (“District
Courts”) the power to affirm, modify or reverse an ALJ’s
decision or to remand the case for a rehearing. 42 U.S.C.
A District Court’s review of an ALJ decision is not,
however, de novo. See Lizotte v. Sec’y of Health & Human Servs.,
654 F.2d 127, 128 (1st Cir. 1981).
The Act provides that the
findings of the Commissioner are conclusive if 1) they are
“supported by substantial evidence” and 2) the Commissioner has
applied the correct legal standard. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g);
Seavey v. Barhart, 276 F.3d 1, 9 (1st Cir. 2001).
criteria are satisfied, the Court must uphold the Commissioner’s
decision even if the record could justify a different
conclusion. Evangelista v. Sec’y of Health & Human Servs., 826
F.2d 136, 144 (1st Cir. 1987).
Substantial evidence means
evidence “reasonably sufficient” to support the ALJ’s
conclusion. See Doyle v. Paul Revere Life Ins. Co., 144 F.3d
181, 184 (1st Cir. 1998).
Tresh submits that the decision to deny her benefits is
contradicted by medical and mental health experts.
that her many ailments qualify her for SSDI and that the ALJ
must have had inadequate information when he reviewed her files.
For those reasons, Tresh asserts that the decision of the
Commissioner to deny her SSDI should be reversed.
The Commissioner responds that the ALJ’s decision should be
affirmed because his findings are based upon evidence in the
The Commissioner asserts that credibility
determinations by the ALJ are entitled to deference and a
vocational expert’s testimony constitutes substantial evidence.
The ALJ’s Findings
As a threshold matter, the ALJ determined that Tresh last
met the insured status requirement of the Act on December 31,
2012 which establishes her Date Last Insured (“DLI”). See 42
U.S.C. § 416(i).
The ALJ then applied the five-step test
promulgated by the SSA to determine if a claimant is disabled
and entitled to benefits under the Act. 42 U.S.C. § 1381a.
test evaluates 1) whether the claimant is engaged in a
“substantial gainful activity”, 2) whether she has a severe
impairment, 3) if there is a severe impairment, whether it is
equivalent to impairments identified in the regulation, 4)
whether the claimant’s residual functional capacity is adequate
for her previous work and, if not, 5) whether there are other
jobs in the economy to which the claimant could adjust. 20
C.F.R. § 404.1520(a); see also Deblois v. Sec’y of Health &
Human Servs., 686 F.2d 76, 79 (1st Cir. 1982).
At Step One, the ALJ found that Tresh was not engaged in
substantial gainful activity from the date of alleged onset of
the impairments through the DLI.
a. Tresh’s Impairments
Applying Step Two, the ALJ found that Tresh had the severe
impairments of rheumatoid arthritis, degenerative disc disease,
hypertension and migraine headaches.
had several non-severe impairments.
He also found that Tresh
For instance, in June,
2012, plaintiff fractured her foot but that has since healed.
She was also diagnosed with fibromyalgia but the ALJ found it to
be medically non-determinable because of a lack of evidence.
Tresh has a history of depression and seasonal affective
disorder but the ALJ determined that those impairments are mild
restrictions on daily living and have not persisted for an
extended period of time.
The ALJ gave little weight to the
opinions of psychological consultants, who considered the mental
impairments to be moderate, because he found them inconsistent
with the record and lacking evidentiary support.
At Step Three, the ALJ considered whether Tresh had an
impairment (or combination of impairments) that met or was
equivalent to the impairments identified in 20 C.F.R. § Pt. 404,
Subpt. P, App. 1.
Degenerative disc disorder was the only one
of Tresh’s impairments listed in the C.F.R. and the ALJ
determined that the symptoms associated with that disorder were
not severe enough to constitute the degenerative disc disorder
b. Determining Tresh’s Residual Functional
Before proceeding to Step Four, the ALJ determined Tresh’s
residual functional capacity (“RFC”).
He found that, prior to
the DLI, she had the ability to perform light work with certain
postural, exertional, manipulative and environmental
The ALJ found that Tresh’s impairments could
reasonably be expected to cause her alleged symptoms but that
her statements regarding the intensity, persistence and limiting
effect of her symptoms were not entirely credible.
supported his calculation of Tresh’s RFC with detailed findings.
With respect to her neck and back pains, the ALJ found that
there was medical evidence which indicates a reasonable
expectation of the symptoms described.
That evidence also
indicates, however, that Tresh had full range of motion with
only mild tenderness, that steroidal injections had relieved
some symptoms for several years and that Tresh had complained of
only mild lower back pain within the year preceding her DLI.
Nevertheless, the ALJ included postural and environmental
limitations in Tresh’s RFC to account for those symptoms.
Tresh also states that she experienced pain, tenderness and
swelling from RA in her right hand.
The record indicates,
however, that treatment had substantially relieved those
The ALJ found that Tresh was able to control those
impairments and did not experience significant functional
Yet, to account for those issues, he included
manipulative limitations in her RFC.
Finally, Tresh alleges that the migraine headaches rendered
The ALJ made extensive use of the record in
finding that Tresh had periods of substantial symptoms from
Again, however, the ALJ found that 1) those symptoms
were treatable 2) Tresh did not seek significant treatment
during the six months preceding her DLI and 3) the migraines
occurred no more than once a month and lasted no longer than one
Still, the ALJ included environmental limitations in the
determination of Tresh’s RFC to account for the migraines.
The ALJ considered the opinion evidence from medical
consultants but gave those opinions little weight.
did not find that Tresh was suffering from a disability under
the Act but the ALJ concluded that neither doctor appropriately
considered the effects of Tresh’s rheumatoid arthritis.
Accordingly, the ALJ determined that Tresh’s RFC should include
more manipulative limitations than the medical consultants
c. Ability to Perform Work
Having considered the medical record and determined Tresh’s
RFC, the ALJ completed Steps Four and Five and made findings
with respect to appropriate potential employment for Tresh prior
to her DLI.
After the vocational expert was informed of Tresh’s
RFC, he was of the opinion that she was capable of performing
her past relevant work as a network development specialist or a
That ability alone would be sufficient to support a
finding that Tresh was “not disabled” under Step Four the Act.
See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(iv).
The ALJ continued to Step
Five, however, and found that Tresh was also able to perform the
requirements for three other jobs in the national and regional
economy, as a printed circuit board assembler, cashier or
After completing the five-step process and describing in
detail the reasoning behind each step, the ALJ found that Tresh
was not disabled, as defined by the Act, at any time from the
date of alleged onset through the DLI.
In reviewing the ALJ's decision, this Court is limited to
determining only whether there was substantial evidence in the
record, Lizotte, 654 F.2d at 128, and whether the ALJ applied
the correct legal standard to support the finding. Rodriguez
Pagan v. Sec’y of Health & Human Servs., 819 F.2d 1, 2 (1st Cir.
This Court finds that there is substantial evidence in
the record to support the Commissioner's determination that
Tresh is not entitled to disability benefits and the ALJ
correctly applied the five-step test in making that
In accordance with the foregoing, plaintiff’s motion to
reverse the decision of the Commissioner (Docket No. 20) is
DENIED and defendant’s motion to affirm the decision of the
Commissioner (Docket No. 24) is ALLOWED.
/s/ Nathaniel M. Gorton_____
Nathaniel M. Gorton
United States District Judge
Dated August 9, 2017
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