United States District Court, D. Colorado
OPINION AND ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING DISABILITY
S. Krieger, Judge
MATTER comes before the Court as an appeal from the
Commissioner's Final Administrative Decision
(“Decision”) determining that the Plaintiff
Jennifer Hawkes is not disabled within the meaning of
§§216(i), 223(d), and 1614(a)(3)(A) of the Social
Security Act. Having considered all of the documents filed,
including the record (#11), the Court now
finds and concludes as follows:
Court has jurisdiction over an appeal from a final decision
of the Commissioner under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Ms. Hawkes
sought disability insurance benefits and supplemental
security income under Titles II and XVI of the Social
Security Act, respectively, based on mental and physical
impairments that rendered her unable to work as of March 15,
2013. The state agency denied her claim. She
requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”). After the hearing, the ALJ issued an
unfavorable decision that Ms. Hawkes was not disabled. Ms.
Hawkes appealed to the Appeals Council, which denied her
request for review, making the ALJ's determination the
final decision of the Commissioner. Ms. Williams timely
appealed to this Court.
Court offers a brief summary of the facts here and elaborates
as necessary in its analysis.
Hawkes was born on November 21, 1985. At the time of the
Decision, she was 30 years old. She has a limited education
and work history, having only graduated from high school,
taken only two college-level courses, and worked part-time as
a waitress. She contends that a combination of mental and
physical impairments prevent her from working.
Hawkes has a long history of mental health impairments. When
she was 12 years old, she began cutting herself. At 15, she
was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. After being raped at 17,
she began suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. A
few years later, she attempted suicide. After giving birth to
two children, she suffered from postpartum depression. She
has continued to suffer from depression and reports that she
has had auditory and visual hallucinations. She has also been
diagnosed with anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, and
attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
addition to her mental impairments, she suffers from physical
health impairments. In 2012, she was diagnosed with
fibromyalgia and chronic pain. In 2013, she began
experiencing migraine headaches, fatigue, and sleep
disturbances. She has also been diagnosed with degenerative
disc disease of the cervical spine.
and Opinions by Treating Professionals
Hawkes received intermittent mental health treatment during
her teenage years and early twenties. But in early 2013, she
began receiving regular mental health treatment at Aspen
Pointe. Shortly thereafter, she was hospitalized briefly
because she was suicidal and having command hallucinations.
Aspen Pointe treated her through medication and therapy.
After six months, she experienced a reduction of symptoms and
asked to be treated with medication, only. In November 2013,
she reported that she was not suffering from depression and
had not had any hallucinations. She told Aspen Pointe that
“she runs around a lot, running errands for her mother
while kids are in school.” She was also baking for
leisure and exercising. But, in January 2014, she reported
that she was depressed and got angry easily, was sleeping
more, was paranoid, and had had a visual hallucination. Two
months later, she reported that she was not depressed, had
not had hallucinations, delusions, or paranoia, and was busy
helping her mother and father during the day.
March 2014, Ms. Hawkes stopped treatment by Aspen Pointe, and
began treatment with Psychiatric-mental Health Nurse
Practitioner Sandra F. Yaney. Ms. Yaney stated that when Ms.
Hawkes first began receiving treatment from her, she was
“in a manic and paranoid state, with high
distractibility and pressured speech. She was sleeping about
5 hours per day, had obsessive thoughts, ritualistic
behaviors, no appetite, and described her energy as
‘great'.” Over the course of the next year,
Ms. Yaney worked with Ms. Hawkes to find an effective
medication regimen. During that year, she observed Ms. Hawkes
“severely depressed, manic, in pain, and picking her
skin to the point of excoriation.” By March 30, 2015,
Ms. Yaney believed that they had determined what medications
would best assist Ms. Hawkes. However, she opine
Now that Ms. Hawkes has finally found a helpful and
comprehensive med regimen, I believe that she could benefit
from a thorough vocational rehab assessment. If she continues
to remain stable; I believe that she could engage in a
home-based business of some kind with minimal social
interaction. However, I think it is unlikely that she will be
able to derive sufficient income from this to support herself
and her two children.
Yaney retired, and Ms. Hawkes began receiving treatment from
Psychiatric/Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Mark Jankelow.
She visited him approximately six times between June 8, 2015
and September 30, 2015. On October 8, 2015, Mr. Jankelow
filled out a Mental Residual Functional Capacity Statement
for Ms. Hawkes. In it, he opined that Ms. Hawkes would be off
task more than 30% of the time during an eight-hour workday,
would be absent four days or more each month, and would not
be able to complete an eight-hour workday three days each
month. He said, “It would be extremely difficult for
Ms. Hawkes to function in a work environment due to her
with her mental health treatment, Ms. Hawkes was receiving
treatment for her physical limitations. Dr. Divakara Kedlaya
diagnosed her with fibromyalgia and chronic pain in May 2012
and provided her with pain management treatment until she
began seeing Physician Assistant Peter Brumlik, Ph.D., who
was working under the direction of Dr. Wiley J. Jinkins. Ms.
Hawkes also complained of migraine headaches, and a radiology
report revealed that she had mild disc narrowing at ¶
5-C6. On October 19, 2015, Dr. Brumlik completed a Functional
Limitations Statement (Physical) for Ms. Hawkes. He opined
that she could only sit, stand, or walk for less than two
hours during an eight-hour workday, was precluded from
working forty hours per week on a regular and continuing
basis, and would be absent more than two days per month.
by Non-treating Professionals
Lillian M. Moeller performed a psychological evaluation on
Ms. Hawkes. She reviewed Ms. Hawkes' relevant medical
records and also conducted an in-person interview with her.
On July 7, 2014, she opined,
Based both on clinical interview and on personality testing,
the patient shows very significant mental illness, including
Bipolar Affective Disorder, Substance Abuse Disorder,
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, and a Personality Disorder.
Additionally, the patient experiences chronic pain from
fibromyalgia. Both her depression and chronic pain severely
limit her ability to be gainfully employed and I doubt that
she will ever return to even part-time employment.
Ronald Jendry performed an independent medical examination on
Ms. Hawkes on April 9, 2015. After reviewing her medical
records and performing a medical examination, he opined that
she could sit without limitations, could stand for six hours,
and could walk for four to six hours during an eight-hour
workday. He estimated that she could lift fifteen or more
pounds frequently and twenty to twenty-five pounds
occasionally. He also opined that she could bend, stop,
crouch, and/or crawl frequently and could reach overhead,
push, pull, handle, grasp, finger, and/or feel without
Dr. Anthony Gottlieb, a State agency psychiatrist, reviewed
Ms. Hawkes' file but did not personally examine her. He
opined that she suffered from multiple, moderate limitations
on abilities relevant to whether she could perform either her
past relevant work or other substantial gainful work existing
in the national economy. However, he ultimately opined that
she could work notwithstanding those moderate limitations.
determine whether Ms. Hawkes is disabled, the ALJ analyzed
her case pursuant to the sequential five-step
inquiry. At step one, the ALJ found that Ms. Hawkes
had not worked or engaged in substantial gainful activity
after the alleged onset date. At step two, the ALJ found Ms.
Hawes had medically severe impairments: affective disorder
(bipolar disorder), anxiety disorder, fibromyalgia, obesity,
and chronic pain disorder. At step three, the ALJ found that
Ms. Hawkes' impairments did not equal the severity of a