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Martin v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

June 7, 2016

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Defendant.


          Leo T. Sorokin United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Maureen Theresa Martin (“Martin”) brings this action against Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“The Commissioner”), asking this Court to either reverse the final decision of the Commissioner and award benefits or, alternatively, remand for further proceedings. Doc. No. 15. The Commissioner moves to affirm her final decision. Doc. No. 23. After careful consideration of the parties’ briefs and arguments, Martin’s motion is DENIED and the Commissioner’s motion is ALLOWED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Facts

         Martin, a fifty-five-year-old woman born October 25, 1960, has never married, has no children, and lives alone in a studio apartment. Administrative Record (“R.”) at 38, 39.[1]Although Martin has a driver’s license, she does not own a car; rather, she walks, takes public transportation, and relies on family members. Id. at 40-41, 291. After graduating high school, she completed one year of secretarial training, but did not finish the program. Id. at 39, 40, 45, 446. Following high school, she worked part-time at a library for five years. Id. at 39, 40, 45.

         Martin last worked in August 2009, when she was laid-off as a temporary employee at Dural Juvenile Group. Id. at 23. For 2.5 years, she assessed the quality of children’s products pre-shipment and processed returns. Id. at 45, 56-59. For three to four years prior to 2005, Martin had, sporadically, similar employment with First Year. Id. She also worked for a book bindery. Id. at 59.

         Martin has actively sought employment by going to the local career center and library. Id. at 45-46. She testified that her previous jobs ended due to difficulties working with co-workers. Id. at 60-61. Her qualifications and lack of transportation have limited her job search. Id.

         Martin has been diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, obsessive compulsive disorder (“OCD”), adjustment disorder with depressed mood, and anxiety. Id. at 104, 460-68. Martin also hoards, and has done so since at least 1999. Id. at 50, 454. Hoarding has caused issues with landlords, resulting in evictions in 2003 and 2013. Id. at 61, 62, 454. Martin received treatment at South Bay Mental Health Center (“SBMHC”) from April to November 2007, where clinician Kevin Hershey recorded Martin’s OCD and episodic hoarding. Id. at 306, 308.

         On August 8, 2011, Martin’s primary care physician, Tinah Canda, M.D., completed a psychiatric disorder questionnaire, noting “none reported/known.” Id. at 263-64. On August 15, 2011, Martin returned to SBMHC, where she sought weekly, hour-long, therapy sessions with Randall Richard (“Richard”), M.A. Id. at 279-92, 302-21, 324-31 372-89. Richard conducted an initial intake evaluation. Id. at 302-15. He noted that Martin is a “pack rat” and hoarder, with misdirected anger that impairs her functioning. Id. He further noted that she wears a full set of dentures due to years of neglect. Id. at 309. Martin’s trauma history noted that she is disheveled, over-talkative, irritable, anxious, and obsessional; and that she has a short attention span, loose thought processes, and impaired concentration; demonstrates inappropriate facial expressions and changeable moods; and has no social circle of friends. Id. at 310-11. While seeking treatment, Martin filed applications for Social Security Disability Insurance (“SSDI”) benefits and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) payments with the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) on September 19, 2011. Id. at 173-81, 182-85. Both applications alleged a disability onset date of September 1, 2009. Id. at 173, 182.

         On October 12, 2011, Richard prepared a Psychiatric Disorder Questionnaire. See id. at 290. Martin continued to experience severe symptoms resulting in deficiencies in work behavior and difficulties in activities of daily living. See id. at 290-91. Her symptoms included poor judgment and inflexibility. Id. Martin was able to remember work-like tasks and instructions. Id. On certain days, Martin was not able to get out of bed. Id. at 291. She was fired from jobs for being overly talkative. Id. She self-isolated and fought with neighbors. Id. at 291-92.

         Per the request of the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission, Dr. Edward Powers (“Powers”), Ph.D., conducted a ninety minute psychodiagnostic interview with Martin on December 12, 2011. Id. at 295-98. Martin described her average day as extending from 8:00 AM to 11:00 PM, and as primarily home-based. Id. at 297. Each day, she attempts to clear her apartment, and would watch television as a leisure interest. Id. Martin arrived to the interview adequately groomed, but appeared to be in emotional distress, speaking rapidly. Id. Powers noted episodic anxiety with OCD features, and some depression given both her current circumstances and continued bereavement over her father’s death. Id. Attention and concentration proved unimpaired, and judgment and social reasoning appeared within normal limits. Id.

         On December 27, 2011, James Carpenter (“Carpenter”), Ph.D., the state agency psychological consultant on initial consideration, diagnosed Martin with individually “non-severe” affective disorder and anxiety-related disorder, and determined that the combination of impairments was severe. Id. at 69-87. Carpenter reviewed Richard’s Psychiatric Disorder Questionnaire from October 10, 2011 and Power’s psychodiagnostic interview from December 12, 2011. Id. at 72. Under the Paragraph B criteria of the listings of Appendix 1, Carpenter found the following: moderate restriction of activities of daily living; moderate difficulties in maintaining social functioning; moderate difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence or pace; and no episodes of decompensation. Id. at 73. Thereafter, Martin’s initial request of SSI / SSDI benefits was denied on December 27, 2011. Id. at 123-25. On March 13, 2012, Robert Lasky, Ph.D., a state agency psychological consultant on reconsideration, affirmed the assessment of Carpenter. Id. at 88-109. Request for reconsideration of SSI / SSDI benefits was denied on April 4, 2012. Id. at 126-28. Subsequently, on April 13, 2012, Martin filed a request for hearing. See id. at 129.

         Richard referred Martin to licensed psychologist Cary P. Gearhart (“Gearhart”), Ed.D., who saw her for a one-hour evaluation on April 23, 2012. Id. at 335-40. Gearhart noted that Martin was suggestive of emotional confusion, poor social development, and a dearth of internalized psychological structures. Id. at 339. He noted that Martin thinks about her experiences in a highly inflexible manner, and evidence suggested difficultly in modifying her perspective about herself or events in her life. Id. Gearhart diagnosed Martin with OCD and Asperger’s. Id.

         From May 23, 2012 through February 26, 2013, Martin continued receiving treatment at SBMHC, now with Kimberly Sawusch (“Sawusch”), L.C.S.W., and Mallory Centonze (“Centonze”), M.S. Id. at 394-408, 417-40. While Sawusch’s primary focus included motivational interviewing (to encourage cleaning and job hunting) and psychoeducation (concerning social skills, Asperger’s, and sensory issues), Centonze conducted psychotherapy with Martin. Id.

         On October 29, 2012, Martin was assaulted in her apartment. Id. at 409. She suffered Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”) from this incident. Id. On March 3, 2013, Martin’s family took her to the Morton Hospital Emergency Department due to concerns about her not taking care of herself. Id. at 460-68. Martin was experiencing heightened stress levels due to her impending eviction and the purging of the majority of her “things.” Id. at 52. Emergency records noted the following about Martin: suicidal and homicidal ideation; flight risk; pressured speech consistent with a manic episode; cooperative; and extremely dirty. Id. at 460-68. The emergency physician recommended Martin be admitted to a psychiatric facility. Id.

         Subsequently, from March 4, 2013 through March 8, 2013, Martin was hospitalized at Lowell Youth Treatment Center, a satellite of Westwood Lodge Hospital. Id. at 12. Martin agreed to start medication, and found group therapy sessions helpful. Id. at 414, 450. She also participated in family meetings and was provided a lot of family support. Id. Martin demonstrated rapid, monotone speech, circumstantial rambling, and odd and poor eye contact. Id. Her Discharge Diagnosis included PTSD, OCD (as a hoarder), and Asperger’s. Id. at 415.

         On March 15 and 22, 2013, Martin met with Kelly Kugel (“Kugel”), M.A., at North East Health Services for a Comprehensive Assessment. Id. at 444-55. Kugel noted that Martin was not eating or sleeping, and that she had “threatened to hurt her sister.” Id. at 449. While hospitalized, Martin was prescribed fluvoxamine for her depression and anxiety. Id. at 450. She was characterized as having “significant impairment in social relationships [and] few friends, ” and never having a relationship with a partner lasting longer than six weeks. Id. at 451. Kugel also described Martin as hyper-alert, unable to concentrate, and lacking in judgment and insights. Id. at 454.

         On March 20, 2013, Dr. Charu K. Patel (“Patel”), M.D., a specialist in psychosomatic medicine, saw Martin for medication management. Id. at 457. Patel diagnosed Martin as having OCD and PTSD. Id. Patel saw Martin again on April 10, 2013, and noted that while Martin had been doing “very well, ” and had “not engaged in any OCD behaviors, ” she continued having a “hard time getting rid of things.” Id. at 458. The move and medication seemed to have benefited Martin. Id.

         At the SSA’s request, Patel executed a Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”) form on April 12, 2013. Id. at 441-43. Patel noted the following about Martin: no issues understanding, remembering, and carrying out simple instructions; mild restriction making judgments on simple work-related decisions; moderate restriction understanding and remembering complex instructions; marked restrictions carrying out and making judgments on complex work-related decisions; moderate impairment interacting appropriately with supervisors; marked impairments interacting appropriately with the public and co-workers; and marked restrictions responding appropriately to unusual work situations and to changes in a routine work setting. Id. at 441-42. Patel also noted that Martin’s Asperger’s “significantly impairs [Martin’s] social functioning, ” that her OCD has “previously impaired [her] ability to report to work on time and consistently, ” and that she had “previous difficultly going to work and leaving her home.” Id. at 442. Lastly, Patel noted that Martin cannot manage benefits in her own best interest. Id. at 443. Martin continued medication management, and met again with Patel on May 8, 2013. Id. at 459. Martin stated that she was sleeping better, felt more relaxed, and was used to her new apartment. Id.

         On May 22, 2013, Martin, represented by non-attorney Michelle Pequita, appeared and testified before the ALJ. Id. at 137. She testified that she is unable to return to work full-time due to her ...

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