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Snow v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

January 15, 2015

Mary Ann Snow
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration


JOSEPH A. DiCLERICO, Jr., District Judge.

Mary Ann Snow 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 and disability insurance benefits. Snow moves to reverse and remand the decision on the grounds that the Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") erred by ignoring the lay evidence of her disabilities, by relying on the opinion of a state agency physician, by improperly assessing her credibility, and in finding that she had the residual functional capacity to do substantial gainful activity on a sustained basis.[1] 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, 276 F.3d at 9. 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). Substantial evidence, however, "does not approach the preponderance-of-theevidence standard normally found in civil cases." Truczinskas v. Dir., Office of Workers' Compensation Programs, 699 F.3d 672, 677 (1st Cir. 2012).


Mary Ann Snow was fifty-one years old when she applied for social security benefits, alleging disability since April 6, 2011. Snow has a tenth-grade education and previously worked as a construction laborer, home health care worker or nursing assistant, a waitress, and a cashier/checker.

She was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer in March of 2011 and underwent surgery. The biopsy showed no sign of metastatic disease. She then had a course of radiation treatment from June to August of 2011. Snow's follow-up examinations showed good results.

Snow's other medical records show that she was seen during the relevant period for complaints of neck and back pain with mostly normal findings on examination. She was treated with medication and was given recommendations for weight loss and exercise. She was also treated for breathing problems, with a diagnosis of mild asthma, and she was strongly encouraged to stop smoking.

During the period, Snow also complained of anxiety, difficulty sleeping, and depressed mood. She was treated with various medications. Dr. Lorene Sipes did a consultative psychological examination on November 30, 2012. Dr. Sipes diagnosed major depressive disorder but concluded that Snow could adequately perform activities of daily living, could manage the social demands of most work situations, could understand and remember simple instructions, could concentrate and complete common work tasks, and could effectively manage common work stresses. Dr. Sipes also noted that Snow would benefit from medication management and individual therapy.

Dr. Jonathan Jaffe, a state agency physician, reviewed Snow's medical evidence on November 13, 2012. Based on his review, Dr. Jaffe found that Snow could lift and carry twenty pounds occasionally and ten pounds frequently and could stand, walk, and/or sit for six hours in an eight hour work day. Dr. Jaffe found that Snow did not have any other limitations on her ability to work.

On December 6, 2012, Dr. Michael Schneider, a state agency psychologist, reviewed Snow's records to complete a Psychiatric Review Technique form. Dr. Schneider found that Snow had mild restrictions in her activities of daily living; no difficulties in social functioning; mild difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, and pace; and no repeated episodes of decompensation for extended durations.

In support of her application for benefits, Snow also submitted her own function report, describing her activities and problems, and providing her evaluation of her functional limitations. Snow also submitted a questionnaire prepared by her former employer, Darlene Raboin, who described Snow's work during the time when she was diagnosed and treated for breast cancer. Raboin reported that Snow stopped working in October of 2011 because of health problems.

Snow's adult daughter, Amy Tynan, provided a narrative describing her mother's condition. Tynan said that breast cancer changed Snow so that she became more limited in the things she could do because of uncontrollable pain. Tynan also reported that glaucoma caused Snow to be partially blind in her left eye.

A hearing was held on August 29, 2013. Snow testified that she had problems with pain in her back and legs and could not sleep despite medication. She said that her family helped her with all of her activities and that she has to force herself to get out of bed and try to walk. She ...

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