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Roberson v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

January 22, 2014

Sheila M. Roberson
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration. Opinion No. 2014 DNH 010.


JOSEPH A. DiCLERICO, Jr., District Judge.

Sheila M. Roberson seeks judicial review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 405(g), of the decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, denying her application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. In support, Roberson contends that the Appeals Council erred in denying her request for review and asks that the case be remanded for additional administrative proceedings. The Acting Commissioner moves to affirm the decision.


Roberson applied for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income on April 1, 2010. Roberson was forty-eight years old at the time of her application. She had previously worked as a waitress, bartender, and a deli worker. She alleged disability caused by atrial fibrillation, depression, and anxiety.

In March of 2010, Roberson was admitted to Franklin Regional Hospital due to shortness of breath and was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, cardiomyopathy, questionable thyroid disorder, congestive heart failure, and moderate chronic obstructive pulmonary disease ("COPD"). After that episode, Roberson scheduled an examination with Colleen Krug, PA-C. Krug found irregular heart beat but normal respiration rhythm and depth, normal heart sounds, and normal psychiatric appearance.

Roberson was evaluated in July of 2010 by Dr. Michael Evans. Based on a series of tests, Dr. Evans found that Roberson was capable of understanding and remembering instructions, interacting appropriately, communicating effectively, sustaining attention and completing tasks, tolerating work stress, making simple decisions, maintaining attendance, and following schedules. Dr. Evans concluded that Roberson's psychiatric prognosis was good.

State agency reviewing psychologist, Michael Schneider, Psy.D. reviewed Roberson's records on July 16, 2010. He concluded that Roberson's mental impairments were nonsevere. He found Roberson had mild restrictions in activities of daily life; mild difficulties in social functioning; mild difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, and pace; and no repeated episodes of extended decompensation.

In August of 2010, Roberson had thyroid level testing that showed good results. During the remainder of 2010 and into the spring of 2011, Krug checked Roberson's breathing depth and rhythm and prescribed medications for anxiety and depression. Because Krug did not feel comfortable continuing some of Roberson's medications due to her medical issues and history of alcoholism, Roberson met with Dr. Peter Moran in early May of 2011 to follow up on her medications. Dr. Moran described Roberson's cognitive functioning and psychiatric appearance as normal and assessed generalized anxiety disorder and a sleep disturbance.

On May 11, 2011, Roberson was evaluated by Elizabeth Hess, Ph.D. Dr. Hess described Roberson as depressed, irritable, distractible, ruminating, hypersensitive, excessively worried, and with poor concentration. In testing, Dr. Hess found that Roberson's speech was circumstantial and vague and that Roberson was cooperative but tense and pressured. Dr. Hess found that Roberson had marked functional loss in activities of daily life, moderate functional loss in social interaction, marked functional loss in work-related performance, and marked functional loss in reactions to stress. Dr. Hess diagnosed cognitive disorder secondary to alcohol abuse and/or cardiac condition, bipolar II disorder, alcohol abuse in remission, and personality disorder.

At a follow-up appointment on July 13, 2011, Roberson told Dr. Moran that the medications were working. Dr. Moran noted that Roberson's cognitive functioning and psychiatric appearance were both normal. On August 4, 2011, Roberson returned to Dr. Moran due to anxiety. Dr. Moran noted normal cognitive functioning and psychiatric appearance and no behavioral abnormalities. He found an anxious mood and tearful affect and increased Roberson's dose of Wellbutrin.

Dr. Hess evaluated Roberson again on August 1, 2011. Dr. Hess found that Roberson was more depressed than she had been in May. Based on test results, Dr. Hess found impaired executive functioning, receptive and expressive language deficits, disrupted attention, and an inability to review responses for errors or omissions. Dr. Hess stated that Roberson's overall IQ was sufficient for work but her inability to function consistently and to spot mistakes would be disruptive in employment. Dr. Hess reiterated her previous functional findings.

Roberson saw Dr. Moran on September 6, 2011, after returning from a visit to South Carolina. Roberson reported that she felt refreshed. Dr. Moran noted that changes in Roberson's medications had calmed her down, that Roberson was less anxious and sleeping better, and that her cognitive functioning was normal.

A hearing was held on January 12, 2012, before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). Roberson testified that she was unable to work because of her heart problems and COPD, which made her tire easily. She also stated that she became depressed at times. Roberson testified that she could walk for fifty yards before needing rest, that she had difficulty staying focused, and had problems with anxiety, including panic attacks at times. She said that on a typical day she has coffee after waking and cleans the bathroom if she feels like doing something. She stated that she was able to do chores but not all in one day, could cook her meals, grocery shop, and did some pleasure reading. She also said she lost her driver's license due to a DWI and smoked about five cigarettes each day.

James Scorzelli testified as a vocational expert. Scorzelli described Roberson's past work as a waitress as light semiskilled work, work as a bartender as light and semiskilled, and as a deli worker in a supermarket as light and unskilled. The ALJ presented a hypothetical of a person who was forty-eight to fifty years old, with a GED, and having Roberson's past work experience. The person in the hypothetical was able to sit for six hours and to stand and walk for six hours with rest and change of position after two hours and had the ability to lift up to fifty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently. The ALJ also added restrictions to avoid environmental exposure, to avoid hazards, and to be limited to uncomplicated tasks. Based on that hypothetical, Scorzelli said that the worker could do Roberson's past work at the deli in a supermarket although the restrictions for ...

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