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McGowen v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

March 15, 2016

Mariah McGowen,
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner. Opinion No. 2016 DNH 056


          JOSEPH DiCLERICO, Jr., District Judge.

         Mariah McGowen seeks judicial review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), of the decision of the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, denying her application for supplemental security income. McGowen moves to reverse and remand the decision, contending that the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") erred in finding substantial improvement following a closed period of disability, in evaluating her treating source opinions, in interpreting raw medical data for purposes of the residual functional capacity assessment, and in finding her statements not entirely credible. The Acting Commissioner moves to affirm.

         Standard of Review

         In reviewing the final decision of the Acting Commissioner in a social security case, the court "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); accord Seavey v. Barnhart, 276 F.3d 1, 9 (1st Cir. 2001). The court defers to the ALJ's factual findings as long as they are supported by substantial evidence. § 405(g). "Substantial evidence is more than a scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Astralis Condo. Ass'n v. Sec'y Dep't of Housing & Urban Dev., 620 F.3d 62, 66 (1st Cir. 2010).


         Mariah McGowen applied for supplemental security income benefits in March of 2012 when she was eighteen years old, alleging disability due to chronic polycystic kidney disease, Type A, and bipolar disorder. She later amended the onset date of disability to March 6, 2012. She had completed the eleventh grade and had no previous work experience.

         McGowen's medical history as presented in the parties' joint statement of material facts begins in February of 2012 when she was seen by Mary Gheen, APRN, for follow-up of her bladder and bowel dysfunction. Nurse Gheen noted that McGowen's condition caused her to have urinary urgency and frequency with accidents. She found that the medication Ditropan, prescribed to calm the bladder, was working well.

         Five days later, McGowen had an appointment with Dr. Sarah Oxnard to follow-up on her asthma. Dr. Oxnard found that McGowen's asthma was mild but persistent and caused minor limitations with activity. In March, her asthma was again found to be mild but persistent.

         In early March of 2012, McGowen was hospitalized for a urinary tract infection. X-rays showed that she had dilation of the large and small bowels but not an obstruction. A kidney ultrasound showed multiple cysts in both kidneys and an enlarged kidney.

         Dr. Adam Weinstein, McGowen's nephrologist, wrote a statement about McGowen's condition on March 9, 2012. He stated that McGowen had polycystic kidney disease with high blood pressure, urinary tract infections, and cyst infections. She had developed severely enlarged cystic kidneys with chronic pain that was sometimes severe to the point of being disabling.

         McGowen went to the hospital on April 20 and April 26, 2012, for abdominal pain. At the visit on April 26, the attending physician found that her abdomen was tender and that she appeared to be in pain. The CT scan of her kidneys showed multiple cysts.

         On May 2, 2012, Dr. John MacEachran reviewed McGowen's medical records and completed a physical residual functional capacity assessment for purposes of her application. Dr. MacEachran found that McGowen was capable of work at the light exertional level with postural limitations. He noted that McGowen was an eighteen year old who had polycystic kidney disease that caused infrequent pain crises. He concluded that the pain crises were not sufficiently frequent to preclude full time work.

         McGowen saw Dr. Weinstein on May 21, 2012. Dr. Weinstein noted that she had had a pain flare-up because of a change in her living situation but that had resolved. On examination, Dr. Weinstein found some abdominal tenderness and otherwise normal results. He noted that her right kidney had reduced in size, both kidneys had cysts, her renal ultrasound was stable, and her blood pressure was well-controlled. Dr. Weinstein also found that McGowen no longer needed Dilaudid, a pain medication.

         On May 22, 2012, Sandra Vallery, Ph.D., did a comprehensive psychological profile of McGowen for Disability Determination Services. McGowen reported a variety of psychological issues, including six years of therapy and a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. On examination, Dr. Vallery found that McGowen was oriented, had average intelligence and knowledge, had fair to good memory, and had other normal results. Dr. Vallery found no evidence of psychosis or suicidal ideation. The results of the mental status examination show no cognitive impairment. Dr. Vallery concluded that McGowen could complete several activities during a day, could pace herself and complete tasks, could remember short and simple instructions but not detailed instructions, could maintain attention but had difficulty with concentration, could maintain attendance, and could interact appropriately with supervisors.

         On June 1, 2012, Dr. Michael Schneider reviewed McGowen's records and completed a Mental Residual Functional Capacity Assessment. Dr. Schneider found that McGowen's records showed she could understand, remember, and carry out short and simple instructions; concentrate for two-hour periods; keep a regular schedule; sustain full-time work; and tolerate routine changes in a work setting.

         On July 10, 2012, McGowen went to the emergency room because of abdominal pain. The examining physician found that she was in mild to moderate distress, she was tender in the upper left part of her abdomen, and she had swelling in her feet. A series of abdominal tests showed a possible partial small bowel obstruction. Also in July, Community Partners discontinued her therapy, after she had not been in therapy for ninety days, and noted her progress.

         McGowen went to the emergency room on November 1, 2012, after four days of flank pain. The attending physician found mild abdominal tenderness and diagnosed renal colic. She saw Dr. Weinstein on November 14, 2012, who noted that McGowen had been doing reasonably well until she developed flank pain during the past month. The renal ultrasound showed that her kidney had decreased in size but that both kidneys had renal cysts. McGowen's blood pressure was well controlled.

         McGowen had an appointment with Priscilla Merrill, APRN, at Lamprey Health Care, on January 30, 2013. Nurse Merrill found no ...

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