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Carstensen v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Colorado

April 14, 2016

CAROLYN COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.


Michael E. Hegarty, United States Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Christine Carstensen appeals from the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) Commissioner’s final decision denying her application for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”), filed pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433. Jurisdiction is proper under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The parties have not requested oral argument, and the Court finds it would not materially assist the Court in its determination of this appeal. After consideration of the parties’ briefs and the administrative record, the Court the Court reverses the ALJ’s decision and remands the matter to the Commissioner for further consideration.


I. Procedural History

Plaintiff seeks judicial review of the Commissioner’s decision denying her application for DIB benefits filed on December 17, 2012, alleging a disability caused by multiple medical conditions, with a disability onset date of October 1, 2008. [AR 75, 147, 198] Because Plaintiff applied for DIB only, she had to establish that her disability began before June 30, 2013, her date last insured. [AR 160] After the application was initially denied on May 8, 2013 [AR 89-95], an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) held a hearing on April 3, 2014, upon the Plaintiff’s request [AR 28-74]. On June 20, 2014, the ALJ issued a written, unfavorable decision, finding Plaintiff had not been disabled from the alleged date of the onset of disability through the date she was last insured, because considering Plaintiff’s age, education, work experience and residual functional capacity (“RFC”), there were jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy that Plaintiff could perform, including some of her past relevant work. [AR 9-27] On April 8, 2015, 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 1-6] See 20 C.F.R. § 404.981. Plaintiff timely filed her Complaint with this Court seeking review of the Commissioner’s final decision. [Docket #1]

II. Plaintiff’s Alleged Conditions and Medical Opinion Evidence

Plaintiff was born on December 23, 1963, and was 45 years old on the alleged onset date, claiming disability due to a variety of physical ailments: partial knee replacement, arrhythmia, chronic neck pain, high blood pressure, migraines, asthma, nerve damage, muscle strain, anxiety, and Type 2 diabetes. [AR 147-48, 198] Plaintiff completed high school and some college, and had past relevant work as a medical biller, dog groomer, kennel attendant, trailer park manager, and auto line assembler. [AR 55-57, 195, 199] Plaintiff’s medical records involve a wide variety of issues; however, Plaintiff’s argument on appeal focuses only on three specific treating physician opinions regarding cardiovascular disease, orthopedic/hand surgery, and internal medicine regarding heart disease, anxiety, and chronic pain. Opening Brief, docket #16 at 3, 5. Thus, the Court will focus only on those issues. See Keyes-Zachary v. Astrue, 695 F.3d 1156, 1161 (10th Cir. 2012) (“We will consider and discuss only those of [plaintiff’s] contentions that have been adequately briefed for our review.”)

A. Eric Young, M.D. - Orthopedic and Hand Surgeon

In March 2011, Dr. Eric Young’s treatment notes indicate Plaintiff had a history of bilateral knee pain and prior arthroscopic procedures. [AR 326] Dr. Young further observed small osteophytes along with joint narrowing, leading him to advise Plaintiff to do strengthening and stretching exercises. [AR 237] Soon after, Plaintiff received pain injections in both knees. [AR 328-31] In July 2011, Plaintiff had a partial knee replacement in both knees. [AR 325] Late that month, Plaintiff said pain had lessened and range of motion had improved. [AR 334] By January 2012, Plaintiff could fully extend her knees. [AR 338] Dr. Young’s note in February 2013 stated that Plaintiff had some popping in her right knee, while her left knee was asymptomatic. [AR 340]

Dr. Young opined that Plaintiff could: lift less than 10 pounds; stand and sit for less than two hours each per day; and never stoop, crouch, or climb. [AR 449-50] He also noted Plaintiff would need to lie down often throughout the day and had a limited ability to reach, finger, push, pull, handle, and feel. [Id.] Finally, he indicated he thought Plaintiff would likely miss work more than four days per month. [AR 450]

B. Douglas Webster, M.D. - Internal Medicine Doctor

The medical record also provides treatment notes from Dr. Douglas Webster, Plaintiff’s internal medicine doctor. [AR 267-92, 476-92] Dr. Webster’s treatment notes from March 2012 indicate Plaintiff was on medication for blood pressure, but she did not have chest pain or shortness of breath. [AR 291] In December 2012, Dr. Webster noted that “chronic pain may well be a detriment to full-time employment”; he thus had Plaintiff complete the disability paperwork, indicating he would review it to ensure he was in agreement. [AR 272] In March 2013, Dr. Webster’s treatment note shows Plaintiff was doing well with her blood pressure. [AR 267] However, in November 2013, Plaintiff said she was experiencing chest pain; Dr. Webster advised she take her cardiologist’s advice to reduce her estrogen use as it was contraindicated for heart problems, but Plaintiff did not go off the medicine because of concern for hot flashes. [AR 481, 487-88] Dr. Webster again signed disability forms, noting “I reviewed her disability forms and sign these with the majority of the forms filled out subjectively by her.” [AR 481] At this appointment Dr. Webster also noted Plaintiff “had a heart attack recently in addition to angina requiring stents.” [AR 482] In January 2014, Plaintiff again said at an appointment with Dr. Webster that she was disabled because of anxiety and a variety of aches and pains that kept her from sitting for more than one hour at a time. [AR 476]

Dr. Webster’s two opinion forms (one in January 2014 and the other in March 2014) both indicated he found Plaintiff to be disabled. [AR 352-54-, 455-48] He indicated Plaintiff could sit for seven hours per day and stand and walk in combination for up to three hours. [AR 445-47] He said she had limitations in her ability to repetitively reach, handle, or finger. [Id.] He also indicated that she could never perform fine manipulation with either hand, lift more than 10 pounds, nor could she bend, squat, crawl, or climb. [Id.]

C. Randall Marsh, M.D. - Cardiovascular Disease, Interventional Cardiology and Internal Medicine Doctor

The medical record also includes treatment notes from Dr. Randall Marsh, Plaintiff’s cardiologist. [AR 465-75] Records show Plaintiff had a heart attack in August 2013. [AR 394-99; 416-19] Later, she had surgery to place stents in her left anterior artery and right coronary artery to help with angina. [AR 355-56, 371-74, 421-23, 465-66] In February 2014, Dr. Marsh completed a functional capacity assessment form. [AR 342-43] He noted that “sustained activity is a problem, ” and he indicated most of the issues of disability are “orthopedic issues, ” except “pushing/pulling” are cardiac issues. [AR 343] He wrote: “Cardiovascular issues date from more than 10 years, ” also explaining that she had a heart attack in August 2013 ...

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