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Santamore v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Vermont

May 29, 2014



J. GARVAN MURTHA, District Judge.

I. Introduction

Plaintiff Jean M. Santamore (Santamore) brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the Social Security Act, requesting review and reversal of the Commissioner of Social Security's (Commissioner) denial of her application for disability insurance benefits. Pending before the Court are Santamore's motion seeking an order reversing the Commissioner's decision (Doc. 29), and the Commissioner's motion seeking an order affirming her decision (Doc. 34). For the reasons set forth below, Santamore's motion to reverse is denied and the Commissioners' motion to affirm is granted.

II. Background

A. Procedural History

In August 2008, Santamore filed applications for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income, alleging she became disabled as of March 10, 2006. (A.R. 88-91.) On January 30, 2009, her applications were denied. (A.R. 46-48.) Following Santamore's timely request for reconsideration (A.R. 49-51), in June 2009, she was found to be disabled as of April 1, 2009, entitling her to supplemental security income benefits but not disability insurance benefits because her date last insured was March 31, 2008. (A.R. 44-45.) Santamore filed a timely request for an administrative hearing (A.R. 52-54), which was held by Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Paul Martin on May 11, 2010 (A.R. 19-39). Santamore represented herself, appearing via video-teleconference, and testified. Id . The ALJ issued a decision on May 14, 2010, concluding Santamore was not disabled from the alleged disability onset date through the date she was last insured. (A.R. 7-18.) The Decision Review Board did not timely complete its review of the claim and, on August 26, 2010, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. (A.R. 1.)

On October 14, 2010, Santamore timely filed this action. (Doc. 3.) On August 4, 2011, this Court remanded the matter to the Agency for consideration of new and material evidence. (Doc. 13.) In November, the case was remanded to the ALJ. (A.R. 482.) On June 29, 2012, the ALJ issued a second decision again concluding Santamore was not disabled between March 10, 2006, her alleged disability onset date, and March 31, 2008, the date she was last insured. (A.R. 399-410.) The Decision Review Board declined jurisdiction and, on February 14, 2013, the ALJ's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. (A.R. 380-81.) In April, this case was reinstated. (Doc. 20.)

B. Relevant Facts[1]

When Santamore applied for benefits in 2008, she was 51 years old. She dropped out of school during eleventh grade, but received her GED thereafter. She has worked as a cashier, housekeeper, nursing home aide, and dishwasher, mostly on a part-time basis. She has struggled with maintaining stable, habitable housing and reliable transportation. Santamore self-reported symptoms of depression since her teens with a significant increase in mental health problems after learning her eldest son had molested her other children, his half siblings.

In early 2000, a primary care provider noted chronic depression and urged her to seek counseling. (A.R. 193.) She attended a counseling session on March 3, 2000, and agreed to attend weekly sessions but requested help with transportation. (A.R. 684.) She did not attend or call to cancel her next two appointments. (A.R. 685-86.) She attended a session on March 31, with the clinician noting she was "ontime for session after having vacationed in Florida." (A.R. 687.) In April, she missed two more appointments, calling to cancel one. (A.R. 688-89.) She attended counseling sessions on June 23, 2000, again agreeing to attend weekly sessions, and June 30, but did not attend or call to cancel two July appointments. (A.R. 690-03.)

In late 2000, Santamore slid off the road down an embankment, hitting the vehicle's steering wheel causing back pain. (A.R. 203.) At a follow-up appointment on December 6, a primary care provider assessed her with chronic back pain, noted she was "very depressed appearing today, " and planned for her to return to physical therapy. (A.R. 204.) On January 16, 2001, she attended a primary care appointment requesting disability forms be completed and was assessed with, inter alia, chronic depression. (A.R. 206.) On January 29, she was discharged from physical therapy because she attended two sessions between January 3 and January 15 with five no-shows to appointments, including an appointment on January 29 she had said she would attend. (A.R. 207.)

In April 2006, after moving back from Colorado, Santamore received medical care at a free clinic and self-reported her depressed mood. (A.R. 584.) At an appointment in May, depression was noted. (A.R. 582.) She was seen for a stomach lump and heel pain in December 2007, and depression was not noted. (A.R. 575.) However, on January 3, 2008, she saw a mental health provider, self-reporting as "wicked depressed for a long time, " and "too depressed to seek a job, " but "mainly healthy." (A.R. 694.) The clinician noted: "[Santamore] is having moderate to severe symptoms of depression. It is difficult to assess whether this is the result of a depressive episode or complicated bereavement. She has no treatment history and has many complications in her life that are overwhelming her ability to cope." (A.R. 695.) She was diagnosed with adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety and depressed mood, assigned a GAF of 38, and recommended to attend weekly therapy for six weeks. Id . She attended sessions on January 9 and January 23 and did not return until August 2010. (A.R. 696-99.)

III. Standard of Review

The Social Security Act defines the term "disability" as the "inability to engage in any substantial gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 12 months." 42 U.S.C. § 423(d)(1)(A). A person will be found to be disabled only if it is determined that his "impairments are of such severity that he is not only unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his age, ...

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