United States District Court, D. Colorado
ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING THE COMMISSIONER'S
Brooke Jackson United States District Judge
matter is before the Court on review of the Social Security
Administration Commissioner's decision denying claimant
Ryan M. Spickard's application for Supplemental Security
Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social
Security Act. Jurisdiction is proper under 42 U.S.C. §
405(g). For the reasons explained below, the Court reverses
and remands the Commissioner's decision.
appeal is based upon the administrative record and the
parties' briefs. In reviewing a final decision by the
Commissioner, the District Court examines the record and
determines whether it contains substantial evidence to
support the Commissioner's decision and whether the
Commissioner applied the correct legal standards. Winfrey
v. Chater, 92 F.3d 1017, 1019 (10th Cir. 1996). A
decision is not 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). Reversal may also be appropriate
if the Commissioner applies an incorrect legal standard or
fails to demonstrate that the correct legal standards have
been followed. Winfrey, 92 F.3d at 1019.
Spickard was born in 1979 and is now 38 years old.
See R. 170. He is a high school dropout, quitting
after tenth grade when he began to display symptoms of a
psychological disorder. R. 175, 217, 285. After leaving high
school he worked brief stints in a restaurant and a hospital,
but he was unable to hold a job because of his mental health
issues. R. 180, 217, 277. He has not worked in the twenty
years since then. R. 164-65, 175.
Mr. Spickard was hospitalized for a psychotic experience and
was diagnosed with schizophrenia, which doctors later
characterized more precisely as schizoaffective disorder. R.
217, 281. Not long afterward he was found to be disabled and
was awarded Supplemental Security Income benefits.
See R. 170, 276. To help manage his symptoms, he
began self-medicating by smoking marijuana regularly in
addition to taking his prescription medications. R. 286.
roughly January 2009 Mr. Spickard stopped taking his
medications-including, at one time or another, Abilify,
Ativan, Celexa, Geodon, Lamictal, Paxil, Prozac, Risperdal,
Xanax, Zoloft, and Zyprexa-because he found them ineffective
and did not think they were worth their negative side
effects. See R. 218, 285, 297, 375-76, 384. Later
that year, in October 2009, he attempted suicide and was
admitted to a hospital. R. 373, 376. He was discharged within
days and prescribed Valium, but he stopped taking it after
about a month because he developed a tolerance to its
effects. R. 368, 382. A few months later he readmitted
himself to the hospital after suffering severe panic attacks.
R. 368. He began to take Zoloft around this time, but
discontinued all medication again at some point in 2010.
See R. 285, 366.
off his medications, Mr. Spickard was incarcerated on charges
of arson, burglary, and trespass in October 2011. R. 284,
286. His disability benefits were terminated at this time due
to his incarceration status. See R. 172. In March
2012 he was evaluated by a psychologist and was found
incompetent to stand trial. R. 291. He was reevaluated in
June 2012 and was again found mentally incompetent. R. 400.
He was then committed to a psychiatric hospital, apparently
released, and readmitted in August 2012. See R. 387,
395. There he participated in structured group therapy and
began taking the antipsychotic drug Latuda. R. 389-90. After
a month of treatment he was found competent to stand trial
and was discharged from the hospital. R. 394, 402.
Spickard has been compliant with his mental health treatment
since then. See R. 292-346. He has not used
marijuana since he got arrested in 2011. R. 47. He now lives
with his father and spends most of his time just
“sitting at home.” R. 43, 186.
April 25, 2013 Mr. Spickard reapplied for Supplemental
Security Income, alleging disability beginning March 1, 2001.
R. 170. The claim was initially denied on July 16, 2013. R.
82. Mr. Spickard requested a hearing, which was held in front
of Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) Patricia E.
Hartman on May 29, 2014. R. 36. The ALJ issued a decision
denying benefits on August 1, 2014. R. 23-31. The Appeals
Council denied Mr. Spickard's request for review on March
30, 2016, rendering the ALJ's determination the final
decision of the Commissioner for purposes of judicial review.
R. 1. Mr. Spickard then filed a timely appeal in this Court.
The ALJ's Decision.
issued an unfavorable decision after evaluating the evidence
according to the Social Security Administration's
standard five-step process. First, she found that Mr.
Spickard had not engaged in substantial gainful activity
since April 25, 2013, his application date. R. 25. At step
two, the ALJ found that Mr. Spickard had the severe
impairments of schizoaffective disorder, posttraumatic stress
disorder (“PTSD”), and cannabis
dependence. R. 25. At step three, the ALJ concluded
that Mr. Spickard did not have an impairment or combination
of impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of
one of the listed impairments in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart
P, Appendix 1. R. 25-26.
then found that Mr. Spickard retained the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to perform a full range of work
at all exertional levels subject to the following
nonexertional restrictions: he is limited to unskilled work
involving simple, routine, and repetitive tasks; he cannot
work at unprotected heights or with dangerous unprotected
machinery; he cannot work at a production-rate pace (e.g., on
an assembly line); and he can occasionally interact with
supervisors and coworkers, but he cannot interact with the
public as part of his job. R. 26-29.
four, the ALJ concluded that Mr. Spickard had no past
relevant work. R. 30. At step five, she determined that there
were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national
economy Mr. Spickard could perform. R. 30. Accordingly, the
ALJ concluded that Mr. Spickard was not disabled. R. 31.
essence, Mr. Spickard contends that the ALJ improperly
weighed Dr. Wanstrath's and Dr. Rosenblum's opinions
and erroneously found his subjective complaints not fully
credible. The Court will address each issue in turn.
gave “great weight” to Dr. Wanstrath's
opinion and only “partial weight” to Dr.
Rosenblum's opinion. R. 26, 29. Mr. Spickard takes issue
with the ALJ's evaluation of these two opinions on the
grounds that the ALJ misapplied the ...