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Steckling v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Colorado

November 13, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          Marcia S. Krieger United States District Court

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on the Plaintiff's Complaint (# 1), the Plaintiff's Opening Brief (# 17), the Defendant's Response (# 18), and the Plaintiff's Reply (# 21). For the following reasons, the Commissioner's decision is reversed and the matter is remanded for further proceedings.


         The Court has jurisdiction over an appeal from a final decision of the Commissioner under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).


         A. Procedural History

         Jeanne Steckling seeks judicial review of a final decision by the Commissioner denying her claim for disability insurance benefits (DIB) under the Social Security Act. In October 2012, Ms. Steckling filed for DIB, claiming she became disabled in October 2011, as amended. Tr. at 30, 184-85. Her application was denied at all administrative levels and she now appeals to this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         B. Factual Background

         At the time of her alleged onset of disability, Ms. Steckling was 49 years old. Tr. at 184. She was previously employed as a waitress, test grader, customer service representative, warehouse worker, and dishwasher. Tr. at 18. Ms. Steckling has bipolar disorder and some physical impairments. The Court summarizes only the medical evidence relevant to its decision.

         Dr. Patricia Schniedwind evaluated Ms. Steckling in April 2013 and completed a mental examination. Tr. 442-50. Dr. Schniedwind diagnosed Ms. Steckling as suffering from bipolar disorder and cognitive disorder, and observed that her cognitive functions had declined from what they used to be. Tr. at 450. Dr. Schniedwind opined that Ms. Steckling's visual memory was much stronger than her auditory memory, which was at the “very bottom for her age” and indicated substantial impairment in processing orally presented information. Tr. at 445. Though her ability to maintain regular attendance and perform at a consistent pace without breaks was not impaired, Dr. Schniedwind found that her ability to understand and remember instructions was impaired with regard to oral instructions, as well as her ability to remember and sustain concentration. Tr. at 450. Dr. Schiedwind supposed that her ability to accept instruction and handle criticism from supervisors could be impaired, but not her ability to interact with the general public. Tr. at 450.

         State Agency physician Anne Naplin reviewed the medical record in May 2013. Tr. at 99-105. She opined that Ms. Steckling can follow simple instructions, sustain ordinary routines, and make simple work-related decisions, but cannot work closely with supervisors. Tr. at 105. Dr. Naplin thought that Ms. Steckling could accept supervision if contact is infrequent. Tr. at 105.

         C. ALJ's Decision

         In March 2015, the ALJ issued a decision unfavorable to Ms. Steckling. At step one, she found that Ms. Steckling had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since October 1, 2012. Tr. at 12. At step two, the ALJ found that Ms. Steckling had the following severe impairments: bipolar disorder, left ankle degenerative joint disease, attention deficit disorder, and a cognitive disorder not otherwise specified. Tr. at 13. At step three, she found that Ms. Steckling did not have an impairment that met or medically equaled the presumptively disabling conditions listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Appendix 1. Tr. at 13. The ALJ further found that Ms. Steckling had the residual functional capacity (RFC) to perform light work with the following limitations: she can frequently lift and carry 10 pounds and 20 pounds occasionally; she can stand or walk for six hours in an eight-hour workday; she can sit for six hours, occasionally climb ladders, and frequently climb stairs; she has no limitation in ability to balance, stoop, or kneel; she can frequently crouch or crawl; she can understand, remember, and carry out simple instructions that can be learned and mastered in 30 days; she can maintain concentration, persistence, and pace necessary to perform such tasks over a normal workweek; she can tolerate social interactions that are typical of an unskilled workplace; and she can plan and fulfill simple goals and can travel and avoid simple work hazards. Tr. at 14-15. At step four, the ALJ found that Ms. Steckling was unable to perform any of her past relevant work. Tr. at 18. At step five, the ALJ concluded that, considering Ms. Steckling's age, education, work experience, and RFC, she could perform the following jobs in the national economy: cashier II, fast-food worker, and retail marker. Tr. at 19. In crafting Ms. Steckling's RFC, the ALJ gave great weight to both Dr. Schniedwind's opinion and Dr. Naplin's opinion.

         III. ...

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