United States District Court, D. Colorado
OPINION AND ORDER REVERSING THE COMMISSIONER'S
S. Krieger United States District Court
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.
Court has jurisdiction over an appeal from a final decision
of the Commissioner under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
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. §
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
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.
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.
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.