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Larsen v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Colorado

March 26, 2018

DIRK LARSEN, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER REVERSING THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION

          Marcia S. Krieger Chief United States District Judge

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on the Plaintiff's Complaint (# 1), the Plaintiff's Opening Brief (# 12), the Defendant's Response (# 13), and the Plaintiff's Reply (# 14). For the following reasons, the Commissioner's decision is reversed and the matter is remanded for further proceedings.

         I. JURISDICTION

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

         II. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural History

         Dirk Larsen seeks judicial review of a final decision by the Commissioner denying his claim for disability insurance benefits (DIB) under the Social Security Act. In December 2012, Mr. Larsen filed for DIB, claiming he became disabled in January 2011. Tr. at 168-76. His application was denied at all administrative levels and he now appeals to this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         B. Factual Background

         The Court summarizes only the medical evidence relevant to its decision.

         At the time of his alleged onset of disability, Mr. Larsen was 58 years old. Tr. at 170. He was previously employed as a contractor. Tr. at 243. He claimed that he was disabled due to Meniere's Disease (along with hearing loss and tinnitus as a result), blood clots, degenerative disc disease, major depressive disorder, and obesity.

         In April 2012, Dr. Richard S. Daarud wrote a letter briefly describing Mr. Larsen's medical issues. Tr. at 408. He diagnosed Mr. Larsen with vertigo due to Meniere's Disease, which causes “marked instability and precludes him from doing his usual occupation, which is physical in nature. He is a fall risk.” Tr. at 408. Dr. Daarud also opined that Mr. Larsen is disabled due to this condition because, despite treatment, there is no cure for Meniere's Disease. Tr. at 408.

         Also in April 2012, Nurse Practitioner Michelle Fisher assessed Mr. Larsen with regard to mental health issues. Tr. at 333-36. Her handwritten treatment notes mostly contain Mr. Larsen's subjective description of his symptoms. Tr. at 333. N.P. Fisher observed Mr. Larsen to be sad with low energy, motivation, focus, and appetite, but to have no psychosis, hallucinations, delusions, or bizarre behavior. Tr. at 333. She also observed disheveled appearance, psychomotor slowing, poor eye contact, flat affect, cooperative attitude, suicidal ideation, oriented cognition, and fair judgment. Tr. at 335. She prescribed Wellbutrin, with which Mr. Larsen had success ten years prior, and Trazadone. Tr. at 336. She also recommended individual therapy. Tr. at 336. Dr. Daniel Fisher agreed with her assessment. Tr. at 336. Other treatment notes by N.P. Fisher do not reflect Dr. Fisher's concurrence. Tr. at 321-24, 327-28. For example, no records show concurrence with her assessment that Mr. Larsen's symptoms improved after treatment with Wellbutrin or that Mr. Larsen did not pursue recommended individual therapy. Tr. at 325-26. Dr. David Kelsall's treatment notes from June 2012 indicate that he restricted Mr. Larsen from working in hazardous areas or high places. Tr. at 341.

         In March 2014, Mr. Larsen was admitted to a hospital for chest pain and a blood clot. Tr. at 379. Doctors treated him with Coumadin. Tr. at 377, 379. He was discharged a week later with instructions to continue taking Coumadin. Tr. at 373.

         In May 2014, Dr. Stuart Lerman, a state-agency nonexamining consultant, completed an RFC assessment based on his review of the medical record. Tr. at 100-02. He assessed Mr. Larsen with the following postural limitations: he can climb ramps and stairs frequently but never any ladders, ropes, and scaffolds; he can occasionally balance; and he can frequently stoop, kneel, crouch, and crawl. Tr. at 100-01. Dr. Lerman also ...


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