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Anderson v. Astrue

December 16, 2008

BEVERLY R. ANDERSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: McLAUGHLIN, Sean J., J.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter is before us a second time on Plaintiff, Beverly R. Anderson's application for widows insurance benefits ("WIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401 et seq. Plaintiff filed an application for WIB on March 21, 2001 on the earnings record of her deceased husband, Roland Anderson (Administrative Record, hereinafter "AR", 14). Her application was denied initially and on reconsideration (AR 47-48, 64-71). Plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge ("ALJ"), and a hearing was held on December 10, 2003 (AR 23-46). Following this hearing, the ALJ issued a written decision on January 30, 2004 finding that Plaintiff was not entitled to widow's insurance benefits under the Act as she had been married only seven months prior to Mr. Anderson's death (AR 18). Plaintiff's request for review by the Appeals Council was denied (AR 6-9) and she subsequently appealed the ALJ's decision to this Court.

On May 24, 2005, we held that the ALJ erred in giving the Dead Man's Act preclusive effect with respect to Plaintiff's testimony regarding verba in praesenti and remanded the matter to the Agency for further consideration (AR 283-296). A second hearing was held by the ALJ on February 22, 2006, at which time Plaintiff provided further testimony (AR 313-336). Following this second hearing, the ALJ rendered a decision finding that the evidence was not sufficient to show that Plaintiff and Mr. Anderson exchanged words in the present tense for the specific purpose of creating the legal relationship of husband and wife (AR 273).

The Appeals Council again denied relief (AR 260-262), rendering the Commissioner's decision final under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The instant action challenges the ALJ's decision. Presently pending before the Court are cross-motions for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, we deny the Plaintiff's motion and grant the Defendant's motion.

I. BACKGROUND

Our recitation of the factual background herein is taken directly from our previous decision in this matter:

"Plaintiff alleges that she had been married to Mr. Anderson from November 1, 1992, through the date of his death, December 12, 1994 (AR 82-83). In support of her claim, the following evidence was presented to the ALJ:

Plaintiff completed a Statement of Marital Relationship form and represented that on November 1, 1992, she and Mr. Anderson "agreed to live together as husband and wife with the understanding that [it] would be a lifetime commitment" (AR 84). Plaintiff further stated that she and Mr. Anderson made the decision in December 1993 to have a "ceremony" to make their relationship "right in the eyes of God," and the ceremony was performed on May 14, 1994 with family in attendance (AR 88).

In her testimony before the ALJ, Plaintiff testified that she had known Mr. Anderson for fourteen years and that over time a committed relationship developed (AR 28). They purchased a home together in 1986 at 530 High Street in Waterford, Pennsylvania, and began residing together at that address in November 1992 (AR 28). At the time they began living together, Plaintiff also owned a home in Erie, Pennsylvania, and Mr. Anderson owned a home in Fairview, Pennsylvania (AR 29). Plaintiff sold her house in December 1992 and Mr. Anderson sold his house October 1993 (AR 39). With respect to their discussions at the time they began living together, Plaintiff testified that they made a commitment to each other, and "were there for each other through thick or thin, the ups and downs, the peaks and the valleys," that it was for their "lifetime," and that she considered it a marriage (AR 32). According to Plaintiff, she and Mr. Anderson had discussions about commitment and what it meant to each of them, and Mr. Anderson indicated to her that it meant he was committed to her for his lifetime "like a husband would be to a wife," and that she felt the same (AR 33).

Plaintiff testified that she quit her job in September 1992, and after they moved in together Mr. Anderson assumed support for her and her three children (AR 31-32). She did all the cooking and household chores, and looked after Mr. Anderson physically because he had a bladder problem and needed to be catheterized three times a day, and needed assistance showering (AR 33). Beginning in 1992, they presented themselves to the community as husband and wife, and she referred to herself as "Mrs. Anderson" (AR 36). She continued to sign documents in her former name however until May 14, 1994 (AR 36). During the 1993 Christmas season, they discussed having a ceremony to reaffirm their commitment to one another in front of their family (AR 34). They decided on May 14, 1994, the weekend after her daughter's graduation, so that family could attend the ceremony (AR 34). Plaintiff testified that the ceremony was not in anticipation of any illness that Mr. Anderson may have had, and that his death was a sudden event (AR 44).

Mr. Anderson's siblings completed Statement Regarding Marriage forms regarding their understanding of when Mr. Anderson and Plaintiff began presenting themselves as a married couple (AR 89-94). Leroy Anderson and Jack Anderson indicated that Plaintiff and Mr. Anderson began living together as husband and wife on May 14, 1994, the date of the ceremonial marriage (AR 89-92). According to Jack Anderson, Plaintiff and Mr. Anderson were not living together in November 1992 (AR 91). Marilyn Kressel, Mr. Anderson's sister, stated that she never heard them refer to each other as husband and wife, and that Plaintiff referred to Mr. Anderson as "R.B." (AR 94).

In a statement dated August 30, 2001, Mr. Anderson's daughter, Rolee Luciano, stated that her father and Plaintiff "took up residence together" in November of 1992, and her father assumed financial responsibility for Plaintiff (AR 226). She further stated that "[t]hey had an extremely loving and caring relationship" and "to someone on the outside," believed that they "appeared as husband [and] wife" (AR 226).

Michelle Tallmadge, an employee of the couple, submitted a statement dated August 24, 2001 and stated that between February 1993 and December 1994, the couple "did live together as husband and wife" (AR 224).

Janet Hall, a friend of the couple since 1987, submitted a statement dated August 27, 2001and stated that Plaintiff and Mr. Anderson "cohabitated" with Plaintiff's three children, and Plaintiff took care of all his needs (AR 225). According to Ms. Hall, Plaintiff and Mr. Anderson lived as husband and wife for many years before they married, and ...


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