United States District Court, D. Colorado
ROBERT E. JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Deputy Commissioner for Operations, Social Security Administration, [*] Defendant.
ORDER VACATING AND REMANDING ADMINISTRATIVE LAW
JUDGE'S DENIAL OF BENEFITS
William J. Martinez United States District Judge.
Social Security benefits appeal is brought under 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). Plaintiff Robert E. Johnson
(“Plaintiff”) challenges the final decision of
Defendant, the Acting Commissioner of Social Security
(“Defendant” or the “Commissioner”),
denying his application for disability insurance benefits.
For the reasons set forth below, the ALJ's decision
denying Plaintiff's application is vacated and remanded
for further proceedings consistent with this order.
Summary Factual and Medical Background
was born in 1968. (R. 28.) He has a high school and college
education and a history of working in the Information
Technology (“IT”) field. (R. 23, 104-05, 297.) In
approximately July 2012, he began seeking treatment for a
movement disorder which caused him to move frequently and
suddenly during sleep, at times injuring himself. (R. 94.) In
addition, by October 2013 he was seeing a family care
provider, Dr. Andreas Edrich, for fibromyalgia, also
reporting significant anxiety and related mental health
concerns, and Dr. Edrich diagnosed “major
depression.” (R. 546.)
by November 2013, Plaintiff was seeking treatment from a
rheumatologist, Dr. Cherie Reichart, whose records report
“severe chronic fibromyalgia, ” “chronic
pain syndrome, ” and “periodic limb movement
disorder.” (See R. 556, 560, 565.) In December
2013, Plaintiff visited the Mayo Clinic, where records report
that he “[met] the 2010 criteria for fibromyalgia, with
a widespread pain index score of 15/19, and a symptom
severity score of 6/12, ” and also addressed his
“sensitivity to light and other stimulus.” (R.
February 2014, Plaintiff was also seeing a neurologist, Dr.
Bruce Morgenstern, who wrote a letter for his employer,
requesting “that his time in the office be limited to
twice weekly and no more than two hours during any one day,
” given his diagnosis of “fibromyalgia
characterized by chronic widespread pain, and also associated
sleep disorders including . . . periodic limb movements . . .
and restless leg syndrome, ” and noting that
“such activities as prolonged sitting . . . are
limited” by these conditions. (R. 724.)
Plaintiff hired an attorney to assist him in seeking
workplace accommodations, these were not provided, and
Plaintiff was ultimately terminated when his employer
concluded he could not perform the essential functions of his
job. (R. 80-81.) Plaintiff submitted a claim under a private
disability insurance policy benefits in early January 2015.
(See R. 719-20, 727). The same month, he reported to
Dr. Reichart that he was unable to return to work “due
to persistent severe sensory overload and chronic
headaches.” (R. 556.) At that time, Dr. Reichart's
records reported that Plaintiff “attempted to maintain
his position at work but the recurrent body pain and
headaches are limiting, ” noting “daily severe
migraine headaches and body pain, as well as
“persistent anxiety.” (Id.)
Procedural History and Agency Determination
filed an application for disability insurance benefits under
Title II of the Social Security Act on January 9, 2015. (R.
representing himself, he requested and appeared at a hearing
with an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) on
September 21, 2015. (R. 19, 38-67.) He requested a
supplemental hearing, at which he was represented by counsel
who indicated the record was not complete (R. 19, 68-74),
which then led to a third hearing, held May 16, 2016 (R. 19,
third hearing, Plaintiff testified, in part, that due to his
sensory overload condition, working in an office environment
would lead him to experience “an extreme level of pain,
starting . . . with . . . a migraine headache, and then going
to [his] body” (R. 82), and that conditions which
tended to aggravate or exacerbate his condition, causing him
to have headaches and/or experience other pain or symptoms
included driving, fluorescent lights, “any sort of
noise” or “any stimulation, ” including the
sound of keyboarding. (R. 82-83.) In describing the pain he
experiences, Plaintiff testified, for example, that his wife
(who is a physician) has insisted that he use a narcotic pain
killer to make him “easier to be around” (R.
92-93), and that in order to attend church he must use pain
medications and wear ear plugs (R. 102).
denied benefits by written opinion dated August 31, 2016,
following the Commissioner's five-step sequential
evaluation process. (Id. at 8-23.)
one, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff has not engaged in any
substantial gainful activity since his alleged onset date.
two, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff had the following
impairments which “cause more than minimal functional
limitations on basic work-related activities and are
fibromyalgia; restless leg syndrome; migraine headaches;
osteoarthritis, status-post right knee arthroscopy . . .;
sensory overload syndrome; photophobia; somatic symptom
disorder; panic disorder; generalized anxiety disorder; and,
major depressive disorder. (R. 21.)
three, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff's impairments did
not “mee[t] or medically equa[l] the severity of any of
the listed ...