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Barrett v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Colorado

December 12, 2016

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


          R. Brooke Jackson United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court on review of the Commissioner's decision denying claimant Rachel Marie Barrett's application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). Jurisdiction is proper under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). For the reasons explained below, the Court AFFIRMS the Commissioner's decision.


         This appeal is based upon the administrative record and the parties' briefs. In reviewing a final decision by the Commissioner, the role of the District Court is to examine the record and determine whether it “contains substantial evidence to support the [Commissioner's] decision and whether the [Commissioner] applied the correct legal standards.” Rickets v. Apfel, 16 F.Supp.2d 1280, 1287 (D. Colo. 1998). A decision cannot be based on substantial evidence if it is “overwhelmed by other evidence in the record.” Bernal v. Bowen, 851 F.2d 297, 299 (10th Cir. 1988). Substantial evidence requires “more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance.” Wall v. Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1052 (10th Cir. 2009). Evidence is not substantial if it “constitutes mere conclusion.” Musgrave v. Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1371, 1374 (10th Cir. 1992). Regarding the application of the law, “reversal may be appropriate when the [Social Security Administration] Commissioner either applies an incorrect legal standard or fails to demonstrate reliance on the correct legal standards.” Springer v. Astrue, No. 11-cv-02606, 2013 WL 491923, at *5 (D. Colo. Feb. 7, 2013) (internal citation omitted).


         Ms. Barrett was born on January 24, 1983. R. 25. She resides in Denver, Colorado. R. 71. She has a high school education, and her past employment includes work as a child daycare worker and daycare teacher. R. 25. However, since her amended, alleged disability onset date of February 22, 2011, Ms. Barrett has not held substantial gainful employment. R. 12.

         A. Medical Background.

         Ms. Barrett's relevant medical history begins in February 2011. On February 22, 2011 Ms. Barrett, who has a history of deep vein thrombosis (“DVT”) in her right leg, sought treatment for lower right leg pain. R. 323-27. Although she had moderate tenderness and mild swelling in her upper and middle leg, her evaluation returned no evidence of DVT at that time. R. 324-25. It did, however, reveal superficial venous thrombosis (“SVT”) in “the greater saphenous vein and lesser saphenous vein.” R. 324. Plaintiff would again seek treatment for an aching pain in her right leg on July 29, 2011. R. 317-20. The evaluation conducted during this visit once again came back mostly normal, aside from noting tenderness in Ms. Barrett's thigh and right leg SVT. R. 318 (noting “[n]o erythema, swelling, laceration, abrasion or ecchymosis [in plaintiff's extremities and no] extremity edema”).

         Roughly one year after her the first evaluation described above, Ms. Barrett again sought treatment. This time, however, it was for right lower leg swelling and worsening chest pain on February 28, 2012. R. 304-15, 332-33, 468. Her evaluation during this visit noted that Ms. Barrett had “severe right calf pain, ” and that she had “extensive right leg deep venous thrombosis.” R. 304, 332. Ms. Barrett was subsequently hospitalized until the next day, February 29, 2012, at which time she was transferred to Denver Health where she remained until March 2, 2012. R. 312, 468. Plaintiff's discharge diagnoses revealed acute pulmonary embolism, DVT, right leg pain, as well as “acute hypoxic respiratory failure[.]” R. 468. Dr. Katherine Anderson subsequently conducted a follow-up evaluation of Ms. Barrett on March 16, 2012, noting that Ms. Barrett had “[w]armth and heat and swelling over her right calf.” R. 441- 42. Her pulmonary exam, however, came back clear. R. 442.

         According to the record, Ms. Barrett next received medical care on August 8, 2012. R. 297. During this visit, Ms. Barrett once again complained of pain and swelling in her right leg. Id. Her examination, however, revealed that she did not have any acute changes in her lower extremity, nor did she have any motor or sensory deficit. R. 298-99. It nonetheless revealed that plaintiff was obese with a body mass index (“BMI”) of 37 at that time. R. 298. Ms. Barrett was subsequently sent home in “good condition.” Id.

         Ms. Barrett again saw Dr. Anderson again on December 14, 2012. R. 375. This time, Ms. Barrett reported aches and pains while “she is down on the floor for 30 minutes playing with her daughter” and that she had “increased swelling in her right lower extremity.” Id. She nevertheless reported “stay[ing] fairly active walking her child, ” and that she “gets out and about.” Id. Ms. Barrett also reported no chest pain during this visit. Id. Dr. Anderson nevertheless noted that, based on her medical history, Ms. Barrett had “[r]ecurrent DVTs in [her] . . . right lower extremity with pain and swelling if [she] . . . does not elevate her legs frequently.” R. 375.

         From March 29, 2013 through April 1, 2013 Ms. Barrett was once again hospitalized, this time for upper GI bleeding. See R. 264. She again saw Dr. Anderson before being discharged on April 2, 2013. R. 353. At that time, Dr. Anderson revised Ms. Barrett's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (“TANF”) paperwork “to state [that claimant] . . . was unable to tolerate more than 20 hours [of work] per week” due to this recent hospitalization. See R. 353. Dr. Anderson also devised a plan to deal with Ms. Barrett's upper GI bleeding, stress, and other conditions. Id.

         Dr. Anderson then saw plaintiff several months later on June 21, 2013. R. 502. During this visit, Dr. Anderson noted that plaintiff had “a warm, tender area in her leg.” Id. Dr. Anderson recommended lidocaine for plaintiff's pain, also referring her to pool therapy for exercise. Id. Her BMI at this time was reported to be 39.4. R. 503. Later that same year on October 29, 2013 Ms. Barrett again sought medical attention, reporting nausea and abdominal cramping. R. 512. Dr. Anderson's physical evaluation of plaintiff during this visit revealed that plaintiff's cardiovascular signs were normal, but that she had “[m]ild left upper quadrant tenderness to deep palpation.” Id. In an addendum to Dr. Anderson's clinical notes, she noted that Ms. Barrett's international normalized ratio (“INR”)-a measurement related to blood clotting-was “extremely elevated[, ]” which meant that plaintiff's blood was very thin and that she should stop taking her anticoagulant medication. R. 513.

         Around this same time plaintiff underwent a psychological examination with Debra Grote, Ph.D. R. 493-98. Dr. Grote noted that plaintiff had a low average intelligence, a learning disorder, and a depressive disorder with intermittent, but not current, depression. Id. Dr. Grote subsequently gave her opinion that plaintiff would “unlikely” be able to “obtain and regain gainful ...

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