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Vorce v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

August 14, 2018

Raymond M. Vorce
v.
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration

          James W. Craig, Esq.

          Paula E. James-Pakkala, Esq.

          T. David Plourde, Esq.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          Paul Barbadoro United States District Judge.

         This case is not a typical challenge to a denial of Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) benefits. The plaintiff, Raymond M. Vorce, claims that he has been disabled since 1994. In 2006, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) determined that Vorce was disabled, but that his current period of disability did not begin until March 19, 1999. The ALJ also determined that Vorce was not entitled to benefits prior to May 4, 1998 because, on that date, the Commission had denied Vorce's first application for benefits and the record did not contain good cause to reopen the first application. Vorce appealed and another judge on this court remanded the case to the Commission for further proceedings because the record did not disclose whether the Commission had in fact denied Vorce's first application for benefits. On remand, a different ALJ considered the issue on the merits and determined that Vorce was not disabled prior to March 19, 1999. That decision is now before me on appeal.

         Vorce argues that the ALJ erred by rejecting the opinions of his treating sources in favor of a non-examining doctor's opinion and by disregarding his own statements of his limitations. For the following reasons, I affirm.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Facts

         In accordance with Local Rule 9.1, the parties have submitted a Joint Statement of Material Facts. Doc. No. 15. Because that joint statement is part of the court's record, I only briefly discuss the facts here. I discuss further facts relevant to the disposition of this matter as necessary below.

         Vorce graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 1974 with a degree in accounting. Administrative Record (AR) 469, 657. From 1977 to 1994, he worked in various managerial roles in business, including “Director of external rep[orting], ” “branch manager, ” and president of a temporary employment agency. AR 273, 421-422, 657. In 1988, he suffered his first instance of depression when he moved from Connecticut to Maine. AR 469. He became depressed again in 1990 when his wife suffered a miscarriage. AR 469. In 1993, he became depressed again when he separated from his wife. AR 469-470. On March 1, 1994, Vorce stopped working, claiming that his “depression, ” “ADD” (attention deficit disorder), and “dissociative disorder” interfered with his ability to continue running his business. AR 659. He was 41 years old. AR 249.

         B. Procedural History

         1. First Application

         Vorce filed a claim for SSDI on April 7, 1998, AR 1419, alleging a disability onset date of March 1, 1994. AR 1414. In his application, Vorce claimed he had “attention deficit disorder, ” “depression, ” and “dissociated disorder.” AR 1414. On May 3, 1998, the Social Security Administration (SSA) sent Vorce a letter stating that it required more documents to process his application. AR 651-652; Vorce v. Astrue, 2010 DNH 182, 2010 WL 4116835, *1. The record does not disclose whether he provided the requested information. Nor does the record reveal whether the SSA resolved his application. Id. *1-*2.

         2. Second Application, First ALJ's Opinion

         Vorce filed a second claim for SSDI on March 10, 2000, AR 280, alleging the same disability onset date of March 1, 1994, AR 272. In this application, he cited “uninterrupted major depression, ” “attention deficit disorder, ” “dissociative disorder, ” and a “learning disability” as his disabilities. AR 272. On August 2, 2000, the SSA denied his claim. AR 86. Vorce filed a request for reconsideration, which was denied on December 15, 2000. AR 92. Vorce then filed a request for a hearing before an ALJ, which was received by the SSA on February 21, 2001. AR 95.

         On December 5, 2001, the SSA sent a letter to Vorce scheduling his hearing for December 20, 2001. AR 101. For reasons unclear in the record, the hearing did not occur on December 20, 2001. Several more hearings were scheduled between April 26, 2002 and July 3, 2002, at which time neither party appeared and the ALJ dismissed Vorce's application. AR 112. Vorce appealed this dismissal to the SSA Appeals Council (AC), which overturned the dismissal and sent his case back to the ALJ for a hearing. AR ...


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