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Yutzy v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Colorado

January 27, 2017

BRADLEY L. YUTZY, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         Plaintiff Bradley Yutzy appeals the final decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security (“SSA”) denying his application for disability benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401, et seq. I have considered the parties' briefs [ECF Nos. 16-17, 20] and the administrative record [ECF No. 13] (“AR”). Oral argument would not materially assist me in determining this appeal.

         Mr. Yutzy contends that the administrative law judge (“ALJ”) erred (1) by improperly analyzing the opinion of a treating psychiatrist, Dr. Jeffrey Harazin; (2) by failing to consider the opinion of an agency psychologist; (3) by failing to properly consider the opinions of Mr. Yutzy's former employer and his former coworker regarding his ability to work; (4) by improperly assessing Mr. Yutzy's credibility; and (5) by arriving at contradictory factual findings at different steps of the sequential evaluation process.

         For the reasons described below, I agree with the first four arguments, but I reject the fifth. Accordingly, I REVERSE the SSA's decision and REMAND for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         I. Background

         A. Procedural History

         Mr. Yutzy filed his claim for disability benefits with SSA in December 2012, alleging disability beginning November 23, 2012. AR 94-95. After SSA initially denied his claim, AR 40-50, Mr. Yutzy requested a hearing, AR 54-55. The hearing took place on May 15, 2014, before an ALJ. AR 25-39. At the hearing, Mr. Yutzy requested a closed period of disability, from November 23, 2012, through March 24, 2014. AR 29. On June 5, 2014, the ALJ denied Mr. Yutzy's claim, concluding that Mr. Yutzy was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. AR 12-24. Mr. Yutzy asked SSA's Appeals Council to review the ALJ's decision. AR 10-11. On November 20, 2015, the Appeals Council denied review, AR 1-5, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of SSA. Doyal v. Barnhart, 331 F.3d 758, 759 (10th Cir. 2003). On January 18, 2016, Mr. Yutzy timely filed this appeal. [ECF No. 1]. I have jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         B. Facts

         During a period of significant personal stress in spring 2012, Mr. Yutzy's mental health deteriorated. He was admitted to a psychiatric hospital on April 30, 2012, with a Global Assessment of Functioning score of 15 on a scale of 1-100 and diagnoses of bipolar disorder and anxiety disorder. AR 160, 164. After he was discharged from the hospital, he moved to Colorado to live with his parents. AR 30. He began working as a general laborer for his father's company, but according to his father, he could not complete even simple tasks like painting a wall. AR 195-96.

         Mr. Yutzy's father explained:

I worked with him to the best of my ability. In the end I realized that he was truly disabled and couldn't be productive for me or any other employer. I had to let him go in the fall of 2012. The Homestead Group couldn't afford the continual mistakes, or someone to watch him 100 percent of the time.

AR 196. Mr. Yutzy's brother, who also worked for the same company, explained that he tried to “train and teach him how to do simple tasks” like painting, digging, and unloading materials, but Mr. Yutzy could not effectively perform those tasks. AR 197.

         Mr. Yutzy's requested disability period begins on November 23, 2012, after he stopped working for his father's company. After he left that job, he met with Dr. Harazin roughly every two to four weeks for treatment for his bipolar disorder and anxiety. Dr. Harazin initially prescribed Mr. Yutzy various medications to stabilize his mood and treat his anxiety, but the medications either didn't work, had severe side effects, or both. AR 180-83; 190; 192; 201-03. The prescribed medications included Abilify, AR 181, Prozac, id., Zyprexa, AR 180, and Latuda, AR 203. The progress notes from that period indicate that Mr. Yutzy's mood was labile, e.g., AR 180, he was often tired, e.g., AR 181, and he was at times anxious, AR 182, confused, AR 190, and “hypomanic, ” AR 203. The notes also reflect that at times he had a “poor response to meds.” AR 202.

         In July 2013, a state agency psychologist, Dr. Mark Berkowitz, reviewed Mr. Yutzy's file. Dr. Berkowitz concluded Mr. Yutzy was not “sufficiently stable to handle full-time work, ” but Dr. Berkowitz did not believe the limitations would last more than 12 months given Mr. Yutzy's “good pre-morbid work history and steady improvement.” AR 45.

         Also in July 2013, Dr. Harazin completed a “mental impairment questionnaire.” AR 184-89. Dr. Harazin opined that some of Mr. Yutzy's impairments would preclude performance of certain tasks for a complete workday. AR 187-88. He concluded that Mr. Yutzy was at least partially impaired in his ability to “remember work-like procedures, understand and remember simple or complex instructions, maintain attention, comply with a schedule, sustain a routine, work with others, make decisions, and work without an unreasonable number of breaks. Id. He also opined that Mr. Yutzy's impairments would last longer than 12 months. AR 186.

         In January 2014, Dr. Harazin prescribed Mr. Yutzy Seroquel XR. This helped to stabilize his mood, but caused excessive fatigue. AR 201. Dr. Harazin then switched Mr. Yutzy to a different form of Seroquel in February 2014. Id. Mr. Yutzy quickly stabilized and improved. Id. At his appointment on March 24, 2014, Dr. Harazin observed that Mr. Yutzy was “doing well. States change to Seroquel worked well.” Id. After the March 2014 appointment, Mr. Yutzy returned to full-time work. AR 34.

         II. Legal Standards

         A. SSA's Five-Step Process for Determining Whether a ...

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