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Sanders v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Colorado

February 18, 2016

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



Plaintiff, August Clifford Sanders, appeals from the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) Commissioner’s final decision denying his application for disability insurance benefits, filed pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§401-433, and 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 REVERSE AND REMAND the Commissioner’s final order for further proceedings.


Plaintiff seeks judicial review of the Commissioner’s decision denying his applications for disability insurance benefits and for supplemental security income filed on May 23, 2011. [Administrative Record (“AR”)140-8, 187] After the applications were initially denied on September 6, 2011 [AR 91-4], an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) conducted an evidentiary hearing on October 12, 2012, and issued a written ruling on November 5, 2012 [AR 18-27] The ALJ denied Plaintiff’s applications on the basis that he was not disabled because he was capable of performing work that exists in the national economy (Step Five). [AR 26-7] 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 6-10] Plaintiff timely filed his complaint with this court seeking review of the Commissioner’s decision.


Plaintiff was born on February 25, 1994, was thirty-four years old at the time of his alleged disability onset date of October 1, 2009, and thirty-seven at the administrative hearing. [AR 20, 38] He had graduated from high school, attended one year of college and had about one year of vocational training as an electrician. [AR 40-41] His past relevant work history was as a carpet cleaner, and then as a sales representative for a construction company. [AR 41-42] Finally, after his onset date, he made several unsuccessful attempts at a home telemarketing business. [AR 155, 41] In his applications, Plaintiff alleged he became disabled on October 1, 2009, due to a neck and thoracic spine injury, chronic pain and a panic disorder. [AR 38, 45, 142] Plaintiff initially injured his neck/upper back in 2003 while working as a carpet cleaner. [AR 43, 192, 206] A 2004 cervical MRI revealed mild degenerative spondylosis with disc space narrowing and desiccation in Plaintiff’s cervical spine - but no significant dural, sac, cord or root encroachment - with disc bulges from the C-3 through C-7 levels. [AR 249]

On October 1, 2009 (Plaintiff’s claimed onset date), Plaintiff’s treating physician, Michael Holder, M.D., indicated Plaintiff had previously reported increasing symptoms of depression and sadness, in addition to his anxiety/panic, sometime in August 2009. [AR 245] In early 2010, Kimberly Winter, M.D., became his treating physician, and continued to manage his chronic pain and anxiety medication. [AR 243-44]

In August 2011, Claudia Elsner, M.D., performed a physical consultive examination of Plaintiff. [AR 233-36] Dr. Elsner reported no abnormal physical findings and her “mini” mental status examination was normal. [AR 233-35] Based on Plaintiff’s complaints that his panic attacks kept him from working, Dr. Elsner felt “strongly” that Plaintiff needed access to medical care, a psychiatric evaluation, and medication for his mental health issues in order to be able to work. [AR 235]

At that time Plaintiff also saw Aimee Henley, Ph.D, who performed a consultive psychological evaluation. [AR 237-41] At that examination Plaintiff reported panic attacks primarily when leaving his home to travel by car and that he had trouble making plans because he worried about having a panic attack. [AR 237] He also reported that he had done “irrational things, ” but denied having depression, and he endorsed social isolation, and sleeping poorly. [AR 237] Dr. Henley diagnosed Plaintiff with a panic disorder with agoraphobia, pain disorder associated with psychological factors and a general medical condition, and history of substance abuse. [AR 240] She assessed a Global Assessment of Functioning (GAF) score of 45. [AR 240] Dr. Henley concluded that Plaintiff displayed mild cognitive impairments; mild impairment of persistence and pace; mild to moderate impairment of attention and concentration; moderate impairment of ability to adapt to change; significantly impaired ability to cope with additional stress; and was “likely unable to work successfully with others because he cannot leave his home.” [AR 240]

In August of 2001, the state agency psychologist reviewed Plaintiff’s medical records and concluded that his anxiety-related condition was mild to moderate, and that he has the ability to do simple basic work in a nonpublic setting. [AR 67-71]

At the hearing, Plaintiff testified that his neck pain was aggravated by walking, bending, turning, and moving around. [AR 50] He estimated that he could sit for 45 minutes to an hour and then would have to get up, and he could stand for about 10 minutes and walk for about 20 minutes to one-half hour. [AR 51] He indicated that could lift, but not for a long time or repetitively. [AR 51] In order to manage his pain, Plaintiff takes medications and has tried physical therapy, a TENS unit, hypnosis, meditation and yoga, and at-home physical therapy equipment. [AR 47-48]

He also testified that he has difficulty traveling to places, but he could travel if he finds someone to drive him, or takes a bus if he can get on, and if he takes enough medication. [AR 41] He had difficulty with being in a vehicle for more than ten minutes. [AR 48] Plaintiff indicated that he spends his day by taking his medication, reading, doing physical therapy exercises, watching television, and spending time with his father. [AR 52] He can make a simple meal for himself, and tries to do dishes, wash laundry, and take out the trash. He does not mop or vacuum very often, and does not do any household repairs or yard work. [AR 52-53] He also tries to attend church every week, and can use a computer for an hour or two. [AR 54]

His father then testified about Plaintiff’s problems traveling in a vehicle [AR 56-57], and a vocational ...

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