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Alton v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

March 6, 2015

Pamela Alton
v.
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration Opinion No. 2015 DNH 044

ORDER

LANDYA McCAFFERTY, District Judge.

Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), Pamela Alton moves to reverse the Acting Commissioner's decision to deny her application for Social Security disability insurance benefits, or DIB, under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 423. The Acting Commissioner, in turn, moves for an order affirming her decision. For the reasons that follow, this matter is remanded to the Acting Commissioner for further proceedings consistent with this order.

Standard of Review

The applicable standard of review in this case provides, in pertinent part:

The [district] court shall have power to enter, upon the pleadings and transcript of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing. The findings of the Commissioner of Social Security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive....

42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (setting out the standard of review for DIB decisions). However, the court "must uphold a denial of social security... benefits unless the [Commissioner] has committed a legal or factual error in evaluating a particular claim.'" Manso-Pizarro v. Sec'y of HHS, 76 F.3d 15, 16 (1st Cir. 1996) (quoting Sullivan v. Hudson, 490 U.S. 877, 885 (1989)).

Background

The parties have submitted a Joint Statement of Material Facts (document no. 16). That statement is part of the court's record and will be summarized here, rather than repeated in full.

Born in 1972, Pamela Alton began suffering from depression and anxiety as a teenager. While in college, Alton was admitted to a hospital for mental illness. At the age of 27, Alton started abusing alcohol. Thereafter she became homeless. At her hearing, Alton testified that she abused alcohol "to numb; to run away; to hide." Administrative Transcript (hereinafter "Tr.") 88.

In April 2003, at the age of 30, Alton was hospitalized and diagnosed with severe recurrent major depression. Upon admission to the hospital, Alton stated that she had abused alcohol in the past but had been sober for the last several months. Contemporaneous testing showed no alcohol in her blood.

In July 2003, Alton was hospitalized because she had "escalating feelings that she could not maintain safety, [and was] thinking of many ways to harm herself." Tr. 892. Alton again reported that she had abused alcohol in the past, but denied current abuse. Contemporaneous testing again showed no alcohol in her blood. In a discharge note, one of her treating physicians wrote that

[w]hile the patient was felt to be depressed, this was felt to be somewhat manipulative on the patient's part. Staff worked with the patient trying to get plans in place, and additional information from the shelter she was at was obtained, indicating that she had abused alcohol, broken several rules, and was felt to be not motivated to be helping herself.

Tr. 894-95.

In January 2004, Alton was again hospitalized for depression and suicidal thoughts. Her treating physician wrote that the "[g]oal of this admission [was] to provide [Alton with] a safe ...


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