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Corson v. U.S. Social Security Administration, Commissioner

United States District Court, First Circuit

November 1, 2013

Brenda L. Corson,
v.
U.S. Social Security Administration, Commissioner. Opinion No. 2013 DNH 144

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

PAUL BARBADORO, District Judge.

Brenda Corson seeks judicial review of a ruling by the Commissioner denying her application for disability insurance benefits ("DIB") because she failed to prove that she was disabled at any point prior to September 30, 1998, the last date that she was eligible for DIB. Corson claims that the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") failed to properly credit evidence from a treating medical source and failed to properly consider lay evidence. She additionally argues that the ALJ's residual functional capacity ("RFC") assessment is not supported by substantial evidence because it failed to account for all of Corson's functional limitations. For the reasons set forth below, I deny Corson's request and affirm the decision of the Commissioner.

I. BACKGROUND[1]

A. Procedural History

Corson originally applied for DIB on August 5, 2002, alleging a disability onset date of July 22, 1994. After the Commissioner denied her application on August 27, 2002, ALJ Ruth Kleinfeld held a hearing on September 18, 2003. Corson, represented by an attorney, testified along with her daughterin-law. On April 30, 2004, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Corson was not disabled between the alleged onset date of her disability and September 30, 1998, her date last insured ("DLI").[2] After the Appeals Council denied Corson's request for review, this court issued a remand order, finding that the ALJ's decision was not supported by substantial evidence. Endorsed Order, Corson v. Soc. Sec. Admin., Comm'r, No. 04-cv-357 (D.N.H. June 29, 2005). The Appeals Council then vacated the earlier decision and remanded the case.

The ALJ held a second hearing on September 7, 2006. Corson was absent, but her attorney appeared, as well as a medical expert and vocational expert. On February 25, 2008, the ALJ issued a second decision finding that Corson was not entitled to benefits. This court then remanded the case a second time on a motion by the Commissioner, and the Appeals Council subsequently vacated the earlier decision and remanded the case.[3]

On June 8, 2010, ALJ Edward Hoban held a hearing at which Corson, represented by an attorney, testified. Corson's friend Cynthia Vandermark also testified, as did medical expert Dr. Gerald Koocher and vocational expert Christine Spaulding. On September 24, 2010, the ALJ issued a decision finding Corson not disabled at any time between her alleged onset date and her DLI. On July 12, 2012, the Appeals Council declined to assume jurisdiction, making the ALJ's decision the Commissioner's final decision and therefore subject to judicial review.

B. Medical History

Corson was forty-four years old on her alleged onset date and forty-nine years old on her DLI. She has a high school education and past relevant work as a housekeeper and laundry worker. Although Corson originally claimed physical incapacitation along with her mental ailments, her arguments here rest solely upon her alleged pre-DLI mental impairments.[4]

1. Treatment Summary, 1996-2005

On August 19, 1996, Corson arrived without an appointment at Community Medical Associates of Concord ("CMAC"), where she had previously been treated for a back injury. She was crying and stated that she was tired, not feeling well, and having trouble with her husband. Tr. at 191. Corson described herself as "dirty and unkempt, " but the examining doctor, Dr. Benson, disagreed with her self-assessment, noting that she was "hardly so." Dr. Benson diagnosed Corson as depressed and started her on antidepressant medication, and on a visit later that month he prescribed two additional medications to treat anxiety and depression. Id.

On August 27, 1996, Corson returned to CMAC and was treated by Linda Douville, a nurse practitioner. Corson complained that she felt tearful all the time, unlike herself, bored with her life, and feared people snooping outside of her home. She also reported continuing marital problems. In September, Dr. Benson advised Corson to remain on the same medications and to seek counseling. Later in the month, Corson told Douville that she had stopped taking two of her prescribed medications due to headaches, but continued taking the third in order to sleep. She stated that she was feeling better about her relationship with her husband, whose physical and verbal abuse were allegedly at the root of many of her problems. Id . at 192.

On October 9, 1996, Corson discussed her marital problems with Dr. Benson and reported that her husband did not want her to work. Id . at 193. Later that month, Corson told Douville that she was in better spirits and was contemplating working part-time over the holidays, which Douville encouraged. On November 21, 1996, Douville reported that Corson's depression had resolved and encouraged Corson to get a driver's license and seek employment. Id . at 194.

On February 3, 1997, Corson again reported trouble eating, sleeping, and difficulties with her husband, and Dr. Benson restarted her on a second medication for depression. By midmonth, Corson reported that she felt better but still tearful, and Dr. Benson restarted her on the third medication. Corson reported being happier that March and continued taking her medication. In September 1998 Corson told Douville that she was "doing fine" and was back working. Id . at 200.

On February 10, 1999, Corson told Douville that she was stressed because her husband did not want her to work outside of the home. Corson requested a replacement for two of her medications due to headaches and she started a different antidepressant. That March, Corson told Douville that she had significant relief from anxiety while on her new medication, and in September she told Douville that she felt more social. Corson reported doing well on her new medication through late 2001. Id . at 200-01, 204, 206.

In early 2002, medical authorities were first alerted to potential problems beyond the scope of Corson's previously diagnosed chronic anxiety and depression. On February 6, 2002, Douville documented a phone call from Corson's son expressing concern for Corson's mental state. He specifically described two episodes: one in which Corson saw "midgets" looking in the window, the other in which she thought she had been shot. Id . at 208.

On July 9, 2002, Corson first told Douville that she had been having paranoid episodes manifesting in auditory hallucinations, fear of the dark, and the fear that someone was hurting her. Id . at 210. Douville reports that "she has had these symptoms for a very long time, but has been afraid to tell anybody about it." Douville referred Corson to Concord Psychiatry Associates ("CPA") and increased her dose of antidepressants.

On July 31, 2002, Corson saw Joyce Blood, Ph.D., a nurse practitioner at CPA.[5] Id . at 225. Corson told Blood that she constantly felt like crying, was afraid of the dark and afraid to take a shower, and had auditory hallucinations and fears that people were staring at her. Corson noted that she felt anxious, stressed, and depressed, and reported excessive hand washing. Blood observed that Corson behaved normally and had clear thought processes, displaying average intelligence with a depressed and anxious mood. Blood provisionally diagnosed[6] Corson with a psychotic disorder, paranoid type, and ruled out bipolar and obsessive-compulsive disorders. Id . at 226.

In a medical source statement dated March 26, 2003, Blood opined on Corson's mental ability to accomplish work-related activities. Id . at 251. Blood found that Corson had marked restrictions in her ability to understand and remember short, simple instructions and moderate restrictions in her ability to carry them out. She noted that Corson had marked restrictions in her ability to understand, remember, and carry out detailed instructions; moderate restrictions in her ability to make workrelated decisions and to interact appropriately with supervisors and co-workers; and marked restrictions in her ability to interact appropriately with the public and to respond to changing pressures and work conditions. Blood opined that these limitations were due to Corson's high levels of anxiety and agoraphobia. Id . at 252.

On September 3, 2003, Blood gave an opinion on Corson's mental impairments for a Social Security prehearing mental impairment questionnaire. Blood claimed that her opinion applied both presently and prior to September 30, 1998, Corson's DLI. Id . at 257. Noting that she saw Corson on a quarterly to monthly basis, Blood reported a delusional disorder with a host of signs and symptoms, including hallucinations, paranoia, and anxiety.[7] Blood noted that Corson's anxiety decreased while she was on psychotropic medications, and that she currently took an antidepressant and medication for schizophrenia. Blood found that Corson's symptoms were likely to recur, and that she would likely be absent from work more than three times per month due to her mental impairments. Id . at 259. According to Blood, almost all of Corson's mental abilities were found to be either "seriously limited" or "unable to function." Blood opined that Corson had no limitations on her ability to do daily tasks, but marked ...


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