United States District Court, D. Colorado
OPINION AND ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING DISABILITY
S. Krieger United States District Court.
MATTER comes before the Court as an appeal from the
Commissioner's Final Administrative Decision
(“Decision”) determining that the Plaintiff Synda
Shallan Muirhead is not disabled within the meaning of
§§216(i) and 223(d) of the Social Security Act.
Having considered all of the documents filed, including the
record (#14), 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.
Muirhead sought disability insurance benefits Title II of the
Social Security Act based on physical impairments that
rendered her unable to work as of July 30, 2010. The state
agency denied her claim. She requested a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), who issued an
unfavorable decision. Ms. Muirhead appealed to the Appeals
Council, which denied her request for review, making the
ALJ's determination the final decision of the
Commissioner. Ms. Muirhead timely appealed to this Court.
Court offers a brief summary of the facts here and elaborates
as necessary in its analysis.
Muirhead was born on February 19, 1969. She graduated from
High School and has worked cleaning houses, as a cashier, as
an administrative clerk, and as a ventilation equipment
tender. She contends that physical and mental impairments
prevent her from working.
2005, Ms. Muirhead underwent surgery on her lower back to
replace two discs, which did not have a significant
beneficial effect. On July 30, 2010, a semi-truck rear ended
her vehicle, causing her to suffer additional injuries to her
neck and back. She also complain s of chronic pain, carpal
tunnel syndrome, anxiety, and depression.
and Opinions by Treating Professionals
Donner, M.D. has treated Ms. Muirhead for her back problems
since 2004 and has performed a number of surgeries and more
conservative procedures in an attempt to provide her with
relief. Dr. Donner filled out a Physical Medical Source
Statement in support of Ms. Muirhead's disability claim.
According to Dr. Donner, she can only sit or stand for thirty
minutes at one time and less than two hours in an eight-hour
working day; she requires three to four unscheduled breaks
during a workday that would each last for fifteen to twenty
minutes; she can lift less than ten pounds occasionally and
ten pounds rarely but she should never lift twenty pounds or
more; she can rarely twist, stoop, crouch/squat, and climb
stairs but should never climb ladders; she has significant
limitations with reaching, handling, and fingering in that
she can grasp, turn, or twist objects 50% of the time during
an eight-hour workday, perform fine manipulations with her
fingers 80% of an eight-hour workday, and reach in front of
herself for 30% of an eight-hour workday but could not reach
overhead at all. Dr. Donner further opined that Ms. Muirhead
would be off task for 25% or more of an eight hour work day,
is capable of low stress work, and would be absent from work
for more than four days per month.
Clemens, M.D., a pain treatment specialist, began seeing Ms.
Muirhead on Dr. Donner's referral in 2006 to address
chronic pain. Dr. Clemens completed a Physical Medical Source
Statement stating she can only sit for thirty to forty-five
minutes at a time, stand for thirty minutes at a time, sit
for about two hours in an eight-hour workday, and stand or
walk for less than two hours in an eight hour workday; she
requires four to five unscheduled breaks during a workday
that would each last for twenty minutes; she can lift less
than ten pounds rarely but should never lift twenty pounds or
more; she should never twist or climb ladders but can rarely
stoop, crouch/squat, and climb stairs; during an eight-hour
workday, she can grasp, turn, or twist objects 10% of the
time with her right hand and 15% with her left hand, perform
fine manipulations with her fingers 10%, reach in front of
herself for 10%, and reach overhead for 10% of the time. Dr.
Clemens further opined that Ms. Muirhead would be off task
for 25% or more of an eight hour work day, was capable of low
stress work, and would be absent more than four days per
by Non-treating Professionals
September 5, 2013, James McElhinney, reviewed Ms.
Muirhead's file but did not examine her. He opined that
Ms. Murihead could frequently lift up to ten pounds, stand or
walk for a total of four hours in an eight-hour workday, and
sit about six hours in an eight-hour workday. He further
opined that she can push or pull without limitation as long
as it does not involve more than ten pounds; she can climb
ramps or stairs occasionally, stoop frequently, kneel
occasionally, crouch frequently, and crawl occasionally but
should never climb ladders, ropes, or scaffolds; although
there are no limitations as to her ability to handle, finger,
and feel, she has the limited ability to reach overhead; and,
finally, she should not be exposed to unprotected heights.