United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RULING RE: CROSS MOTIONS TO REVERSE (DOC. NO. 13) AND
AFFIRM (DOC. NO. 16) THE DECISION OF THE COMMISSIONER OF
C. Hall United States District Judge
Linda Ann Wright (“Wright”) has filed this action
pursuant to section 405(g) of title 42 of the United States
Code, seeking an Order reversing the final decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security, defendant Carolyn Colvin
(“Commissioner”), that Wright is not entitled to
Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) under Title
II of the Social Security Act. See Compl. (Doc. No.
1). On August 8, 2016, Wright submitted a Motion for Judgment
on the Pleadings to Reverse or Remand the Commissioner's
decision (Doc No. 13). Colvin has filed a cross Motion in
which she asks the court to affirm the final decision denying
Wright benefits. See Def.'s Mot. to Affirm the
Decision of the Commissioner (Doc. No. 16).
reasons that follow, the decision of the Administrative Law
Judge is affirmed.
was born in 1954 and was 58 years old at the time of the
alleged onset of her disability. Certified Tr. of the Record
(“Tr.”) at 183. She had a part-time job in a
nursing home as a nursing assistant beginning in June 2012,
and continuing through her application. Id. at 221.
In that role, Wright would help transfer patients around the
nursing home, interview new patients, and keep paperwork up
to date. Id. at 79, 241. She indicated that, on a
normal day, she would walk for 3 hours, stand for half an
hour, sit for 15 minutes, and stoop for 15 minutes.
Id. at 241. She ultimately left this job in
September of 2013, due to her need for a total hip
replacement and a knee brace, as well as shoulder and back
pain. Id. at 65-66.
applied for DIB on June 27, 2013, for a period of disability
beginning on December 1, 2012. Id. at 26. Her claim
was first denied on September 27, 2013, and then again after
reconsideration on December 12, 2013. Id. She then
filed a written request for a hearing on January 29, 2014,
which was held before Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) I. K. Harrington on January 12, 2015. The
record before her contained the records of numerous
physicians, both those who treated Wright, and physicians who
reviewed her medical records.
has three treating physicians: Alla Rudinskaya, M.D.
(“Dr. Rudinskaya”), Karen Coblens, M.D.
(“Dr. Coblens), and Sanjay Gupta, M.D. (“Dr.
Gupta”). Dr. Rudinskaya has treated Wright for
rheumatoid arthritis since 2007. Id. at 601. In her
treatment notes from November 12, 2012, Wright told Dr.
Rudinskaya that she generally felt well, with improvement in
her shoulder after receiving a steroid injection.
Id. at 385. Wright did have some discomfort in her
hands and right hip. Id. On February 28, 2013,
Wright told Dr. Rudinskaya that Wright had undergone a right
total hip replacement in December, and that her arthritis was
relatively stable, with only intermittent aches. Id.
at 388. On June 17, 2013, Wright reported that her joints had
become increasingly stiff, particularly in her shoulders,
hands, ankles, and feet. Id. at 392. When Wright
returned to Dr. Rudinskaya on October 14, 2013, Wright
explained that her shoulder pain had led her to quit her job.
Id. at 573. Finally, on December 6, 2013, Wright
reported to Dr. Rudinskaya that her joint pain had improved,
but that she continued to feel swelling and morning
stiffness, as well as shoulder and neck pain. Id. at
608. Later visits on February 21, March 10, and June 26, 2014
continued the pattern of increasing and decreasing pain.
See id. at 620 (February 21 meeting indicated
significant pain), 737 (March 10 follow-up with increasing
pain), 734 (June 26 meeting wherein Wright reported that she
felt well without any significant pain).
Rudinskaya completed a Rheumatoid Arthritis Impairment
Questionnaire on December 6, 2013. Id. at 601. Her
answers confirm a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis, with
pain and limited movement in Wright's neck, mid back,
lower back, pelvis, shoulders, knees, feet, elbows, wrists,
the right hip, and all fingers. Id. at 601. Dr.
Rudinskaya also indicated that Wright had a limited ability
to grasp and manipulate objects or reach overhead.
Id. at 602. Finally, Dr. Rudinskaya noted that she
believed Wright was able to sit for a total of two hours in
an hour workday, and stand or walk for one hour each workday.
Id. at 604. Dr. Rudinskaya wrote that she believed
that Wright would be best suited to stand for an hour, then
sit for an hour. Id.
began seeing Dr. Coblens in February of 2006 for
hypertension, asthma, and depression. Id. at 621.
Dr. Coblens noted that Wright had edema in her lower leg, and
that she felt puffy all over. Id. at 442, 431. On
November 15, 2013, Wright requested that Dr. Coblens complete
forms regarding Wright's disability, and she reported to
Dr. Coblens that Wright had significant joint pain in her
hands, shoulders, and elbows. Id. at 593. Dr.
Coblens noted that she believed that Wright was severely
limited in her activities and could not work even a part time
job. Id. at 594.
Coblens also completed a Multiple Impairment questionnaire on
November 15, 2013, wherein she stated that Wright had
rheumatoid arthritis, fatigue, sleep apnea, and hypertension
which were progressive and unlikely to improve. Id.
at 584, 591. She noted that she could observe the swelling,
but that she relied upon the laboratory and diagnostic tests
of Dr. Rudinskaya. Id. at 584-85. Dr. Coblens
estimated that Wright's pain level was a ten out of ten,
and that her fatigue level was eight or nine out of ten.
Id. at 586. She noted that Wright could neither sit
nor stand for more than an hour during an eight hour work
day, and that she would need to get up and move around every
30 minutes. Id. Dr. Coblens stressed throughout her
responses that Wright's limitations would prevent her
from working. See id. at 590 (writing in
“can't work” in response to the multiple
choice question “please estimate, on average, how often
you patient is likely to be absent from work.”).
January 6, 2015, Dr. Coblens filled out a disability
impairment questionnaire, wherein she diagnosed rheumatoid
arthritis, muscle pain, hypertension, and depression.
Id. at 765. She noted that she now believed that
Wright could work in a seated position for four hours, with
breaks, but could still not stand or walk for over an hour.
Id. at 767. She maintained that Wright would need to
stand every 30 minutes for around five to ten minutes before
she could return to work. Id. She also revised her
opinion as to how often Wright would be absent from work to
“two to three times per month” from her blanket
statement that Wright could not work. Compare id. at
590 (writing in “can't work”) with
id. at 769 (checking off the “two to three times a
month” square, not the “more than three times a
Gupta was the orthopedic surgeon who performed Wright's
total right hip arthroplasty. Id. at 422. By January
25, 2013, Wright had recovered enough that her gait was
unremarkable, her range of hip motion was excellent, and that
she was not taking any pain medication. Id. at 781.
She returned to Dr. Gupta on March 24, 2014, due to pain in
her knee, for which he administered a steroid injection and
prescribed a knee brace. Id. at 786. This treatment
appears to have helped, as she stated that she felt
“quite comfortable” on April 23, 2014.
Id. at 791.
Social Security Administration (“SSA”) also had
one doctor meet with Wright and four state doctors review
Wright's records. She was evaluated by Dr. William
Higgins (“Dr. Higgins”), a SSA consultative
psychologist on September 2011, 2013. Id. at 518. He
noted that she was depressed, no longer interested in other
people or things that she used to enjoy. Id. at 519.
He also found that Wright's medical problems, including
rheumatoid arthritis, make her very tired at the end of every
day of work, even though she was only working 16 hours per
week. Id. Thus, he found that without a more
successful treatment plan, he could not see her returning to
medical records were reviewed by Meghana Karande, M.D.
(“Dr. Karande”), a state agency physician, Robert
Sutton, Ph.D. (“Dr. Sutton”) a state agency
psychologist, Kirk Johnson, Psy.D. (“Dr.
Johnson”), a state agency physician, and Rafael Wurzel,
M.D. (“Dr. Wurzel”), a state agency physician.
Dr. Karande reviewed the record on September 16, 2013, and
found that Wright could stand or walk for approximately six
hours, and sit for approximately six hours. Id. at
107, 109. Dr. Sutton reviewed the record on September 24,
2013, and diagnosed Wright with a severe affective disorder
and disorder of the back, but non-severe inflammatory
arthritis. Id. at 107.
Johnson reviewed the record on November 13, 2013, and
diagnosed Wright with a disorder of the back, inflammatory
arthritis, obesity, and an affective disorder, all severe.
Id. at 120. He determined that Wright had no
limitation on her daily living, and only mild difficulties
with social functioning. Id. Finally, Dr. Wurzel
reviewed the record on December 11, 2013, to assess
Wright's Residual Functional Capacity
(“RFC”). Id. at 121-123. Dr. Wurzel
found that Wright could stand for about six hours, and walk