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Wright v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

January 18, 2017



          Janet C. Hall United States District Judge


         Plaintiff 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).

         For the reasons that follow, the decision of the Administrative Law Judge is affirmed.


         Wright 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.

         Wright 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.

         Wright 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).

         Dr. 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.

         Wright 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.

         Dr. 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.”).

         On 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 month” square).

         Dr. 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.

         The 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 work. Id.

         Wright's 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.

         Dr. 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 ...

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