United States District Court, D. Colorado
PAUL A. OSBORN, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
LEWIS T. BABCOCK, JUDGE
Plaintiff, Paul A. Osborn, appeals from the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) Commissioner’s final decision denying his application for supplemental security income, filed pursuant to Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§1381-1383c. Jurisdiction is proper under 42 U.S.C. §405(g). Oral argument would not materially assist me in the determination of this appeal. After consideration of the parties’ briefs, as well as the administrative record, I AFFIRM the Commissioner’s final order.
I. STATEMENT OF THE CASE
Plaintiff seeks judicial review of the Commissioner’s decision denying his application for supplemental security income filed in August of 2012. [Administrative Record (“AR”) 16, 129] After the application was initially denied on April 11, 2013 [AR 64], an evidentiary hearing was held on June 24, 2013. [AR 29] An Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) issued a written ruling on June 27, 2013. [AR 16] In that ruling the ALJ denied his application on the basis that he was not disabled because Plaintiff had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform work existing in significant numbers in the national economy (Step Five). [AR 16-25] The SSA Appeals Council subsequently denied Plaintiff’s administrative request for review of the ALJ’s determination, making the SSA Commissioner’s denial final for the purpose of judicial review. [AR 1] See 20 C.F.R. §416.1481. Plaintiff timely filed his complaint with this court seeking review of the Commissioner’s final decision.
Plaintiff was born on August 6, 1991. [AR 33] He was twenty-one years old on the date of the ALJ’s decision, and had obtained his GED. [AR 21, 35] Plaintiff has no past relevant work. [AR 158-59, 182] In his application, Plaintiff alleged he is disabled due to bipolar II disorder, panic attacks, hallucinations, PTSD, and major depression. [AR 154] He indicated that he became disabled commencing on January 1, 2005, but his alleged onset date was subsequently amended to August 28, 2012 - the application date - as SSI benefits are not payable prior to the month following the month in which the application was filed pursuant to 20 C.F.R. §416.200 and §416.202(g). [AR 16]
A. Prior Medical Evidence
The medical records prior to Plaintiff’s application date reveal that he suffered from various mental problems and had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, adjustment disorder, depression, anxiety and marijuana abuse. [AR 273, 277, 283] It appears that Plaintiff had received on and off treatment for his mental health issues, starting in 2007 at age 15, from psychologist Don Marinelli, Ph.D. [AR 268-99] The records also reveal that the year prior to his application date for SSI benefits, Plaintiff received psychiatric treatment/medication management from Joey Learner, M.D. (from July 2011 through Feb 2012). [AR 259-67]
Also during the year before he applied, Plaintiff was placed on two psychiatric holds at Boulder Community Hospital. [AR 209, 231] On October 10, 2011 he was involuntarily held for suicidal and homicidal threats. [AR 208-21] At discharge, on October 13, 2011, he had arranged for intake at Centennial Peaks Hospital for intensive outpatient treatment. His diagnosis upon discharge was bipolar disorder, mixed, cannabis dependence, and his Global Assessment of Functioning (“GAF”) score was assessed at 60. [AR 209] On February 19, 2012, Plaintiff was placed on a 72-hour mental health hold for increased agitation, anger and some violence after discontinuing his medications and 6 months of homelessness. [AR 230-42] Upon discharge, on February 23, 2012, his diagnosis was bipolar disorder, most recent episode mixed, and an assessed GAF score of 55. He was to followup with Centennial Peaks Hospital. [AR 231]
The records from the outpatient program at Centennial Peaks reveal only an initial assessment on February 27, 2012, and then an unsigned treatment plan on March 5, 2012. [AR 243-58] The discharge notes indicate that Plaintiff was not able to complete the program as he needs intensive case management and mental health treatment. The discharge diagnosis was cannabis dependence, and bipolar D/O, with as assessed GAF of 40. [AR 244]
B. Relevant Medical Records
The medical records for the time period after Plaintiff’s application was filed are minimal. On October 20, 2012, his psychologist, Dr. Marinelli, authored a “To Whom it May Concern” letter indicating his opinion that “[w]hen compliant with his treatment plan, especially his medication regiment, [Plaintiff] can function safely and appropriately in the community. However, his high levels of anxiety and depression and his low self-esteem significantly interfere with his ability to consistently participate in young adulthood.” [AR 269]
In March of 2013, Plaintiff underwent a psychological examination with consultive examiner Stuart Kutz, Ph.D. [AR 301-07] After a mental status exam, Dr. Kutz indicated:
Mentally, he certainly seems capable of basic activities of daily living as well as chores, although his underlying personality disorder and tendency towards instability may make this less than optimal at times. However, . . . he functions rather well in a structured environment and where his needs are met. And so he is capable of functioning at a higher level than what he seems to present. [AR 307]
Dr. Kutz indicated Plaintiff’s primary diagnosis as a personality disorder, NOS, with borderline features. He also diagnosed a mood disorder, NOS and anxiety disorder, NOS. He assessed a GAF score of 55 “indicating a moderate level of social and occupational impairment” and noted that “[r]elative to a competitive work setting throughout an eight-hour day, his attention/concentration, persistence and pace in task completion, and social adaptation would seem moderately impaired.” [AR 307]
Douglas Hanze, Ph.D., a state agency psychologist, reviewed Plaintiff’s medical records and opined, at the initial determination stage, that:
[Plaintiff’s] symptoms may interfere with completion of a normal workday or workweek or may cause inconsistent pace. However, when work does not require more than simple instructions, ordinary routines and simple decision making, limitations of attendance and pace will not prevent the completion of a normal workday/workweek or significantly reduce pace. [Plaintiff] can perform at a consistent pace without an unreasonable number and length of rest periods when work demands are within [RFC] restrictions. [He] should have limited interpersonal contact. [AR 59]
C. Hearing Testimony:
At the hearing on this matter, Plaintiff testified that he had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), bipolar disorder, depression, panic attacks, and anxiety, and that he was last hospitalized because he was homeless, not taking his medications, and having problems with depression. [AR 36-38]
Plaintiff testified that he had a driver’s license, but did not drive because he got panic attacks, trouble focusing, had hallucinations, and that he had not left his apartment in a year. [AR 34-36, 45-46] When asked about his medications, he indicated that he had stopped taking them and was instead using dietary supplements, which he thought helped a lot. [AR 36] He indicated that he keeps appointments with his therapist, but that they were conducted over the phone because he has problems leaving the house. [AR 45-6] Plaintiff testified that he issues with short-term memory and getting along with other people, and that he had daily panic attacks which last from 45 minutes to three hours. [AR 39-40] He indicated that has hallucinations and he sees “things other people don’t” all the time. [AR 41]
Plaintiff testified that he showers daily, but doesn’t groom himself due his low self-esteem. [AR 41] He goes to the grocery store once or twice a month, and cooks his own dinner, but does not use a stove. [AR 41-42] He receives help cleaning his apartment from his parents. [AR 42] He also testified that he spent an hour or two on the computer every day. [AR 42-3] He indicated he is not able to enjoy his hobbies of playing guitar or skateboarding, but he can care for his pet cat. [AR 43-4]
A vocational expert also testified. [AR 46] She testified that a hypothetical individual of Plaintiff’s age, education, and past work, and RFC that was limited to: “simple, routine, and repetitive work with a maximum SVP-2;” “[c]ould not perform at a production rate pace” but could “perform goal-oriented work;” “[o]ccasional interaction with supervisors and coworkers;” “[n]o interaction with the public;” and “[c]an tolerate few changes in ...