United States District Court, D. Colorado
SHARON J. SHELTON, Plaintiff,
COMMISSIONER, Social Security Administration, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
S. Krieger United States District Judge.
MATTER comes before the Court on Plaintiff Sharon J.
Shelton's appeal from the Commissioner of Social
Security's (the “Commissioner”) final
decision denying her application for Disability Insurance
Benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C.
§§ 401-33, and Supplemental Security Income under
Title XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C.
§§1381-83c. Having considered the pleadings and the
record, the Court FINDS and
Shelton filed a claim for disability insurance benefits
pursuant to Titles II and XVI in October 2013, asserting that
her disability began approximately two months earlier. After
her claim was initially denied, Ms. Shelton filed a written
request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (the
“ALJ”). This request was granted, and a hearing
was held in August 2015.
ALJ's Decision applied the five-step social security
disability claim evaluation process and determined: (1) Ms.
Shelton had not engaged in substantial gainful activity after
August 1, 2013; (2) she had the severe impairments of bipolar
disorder, provisional borderline personality disorder, and
anxiety-related disorder; (3) she did not have an impairment
or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled
any of the impairments listed in 20 C.F.R. Part 404, Subpt.
P, App'x 1; (4) Ms. Shelton had the residual functional
capacity (“RFC”) to perform the full range of
work at all exertional levels as set forth in 20 C.F.R.
§ 416.967(b)with various limitations related to her
ability to understand and remember instructions and interact
with others; (5) she could not perform jobs that she
previously held (network control operator and phlebotomist);
but (6) there are jobs in the national economy suitable for
an individual with Ms. Shelton's RFC, such as general
clerk, file clerk II, and housekeeper. Based on this Step 5
conclusion, the Decision determined that Ms. Shelton was not
and had not been disabled under the Social Security Act, and
it denied her application for benefits.
Appeals Council denied Ms. Shelton's request for review
of the Decision, making the Decision the Commissioner's
final decision for purposes of judicial review. Krauser
v. Astrue, 638 F.3d 1324, 1327 (10th Cir. 2011). Ms.
Shelton's appeal was timely brought, and this Court
exercises jurisdiction to review the Commissioner of Social
Security's final decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
Relevant Material Facts
Shelton submitted her application for social security
benefits on October 10, 2013, claiming an onset of disability
of August 1, 2013. Ms. Shelton has suffered from various
undiagnosed mental disorders for many years, and in or around
March 2013, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder,
post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”), and
possible borderline personality disorder.
then, Ms. Shelton had engaged in a long working career, first
as an IT technician, and then as a phlebotomist at Penrose
Hospital. Shortly after her diagnosis, Ms. Shelton's
employment was terminated. Ms. Shelton asserts that this
termination was a triggering event for worsening of her
mental disorders, preventing her from returning to gainful
Shelton was hospitalized four times between September 2013
and October 2014; each hospitalization was the result of
severe depression and suicidal ideation (and one apparent
suicide attempt). She has suffered from frequent depressed
moods, hypomanic episodes, increasingly severe memory
problems, severe concentration problems, and liver
dysfunction (non-alcoholic cirrhosis, which may or may not
have contributed to her memory problems).
Shelton reports experiencing significant inability to control
her emotions, especially including a tendency to become
irrationally angry over seemingly minor incidents. She says
that she can be hostile, paranoid, argumentative, and
socially inept. She states that her longtime girlfriend's
adult children do not like for her to be around their young
children because she will become enraged over little things
like the children spilling food or drink. Ms. Shelton also
reports an extremely poor memory, possibly due to her liver
condition, sleep apnea and/or PTSD. She says that she must be
reminded to do laundry, bathe and generally take care of her
personal hygiene needs. She says that she rarely cooks,
because when she does, she often leaves the food to burn on
the stove or in the oven. She also reports going to the
grocery store to shop but then forgetting why she is there.
Ms. Shelton says that her girlfriend has to assume care of
her pets because she would forget to let them in and out.
While Ms. Shelton is able to drive, she reports frequently
getting lost and forgetting where she is.
February 2014, while in a manic episode, Ms. Shelton went on
a spending spree, purchasing plane tickets to Europe, a
73-inch big screen television, and an eighteen-foot boat.
Instead of going to Europe in February 2014, Ms. Shelton
traveled by herself to El Paso, Texas, where her mother and
brother lived. She testified that she had a blackout while
driving and found herself in El Paso without any recollection
of how she got there. With respect to the boat, Ms. Shelton
was unable to learn how to operate it, and her sole attempt
to use it resulted in a in her striking another craft and
almost crashing into a pile of rocks. The Court further notes
that there is medical evidence in the record that
seemingly-irresponsible spending sprees are a common behavior
in people with bipolar disorder who are experiencing a manic
or hypomanic episode.
are extensive treatment records from February 2013 through
July 2015, including four hospitalizations in September 2013,
March 2014, April 2014, and September/October 2014. Ms.
Shelton was treated by Dr. Elliot Cohen, M.D., in March and
April 2013, at which time she was diagnosed with bipolar
disorder and hypomania. She was prescribed lithium, and
appeared to be responding well to the medication. She then
received care for her bipolar disorder through Colorado
Springs Health Partners, P.C. Medical records generally
indicate that she was able to use the lithium to manage her
condition, at least in the 2013 time period.
in September 2013, approximately six weeks after her
termination at Penrose Hospital, Ms. Shelton was hospitalized
on an inpatient basis after reporting severe depression and
suicidal thoughts. Ms. Shelton was hospitalized for three
days, then released for outpatient treatment. Her lithium
prescription was not altered, but an additional
antidepressant was prescribed.
Shelton began treatment with Rocky Mountain Counseling Center
for her bipolar diagnosis after her discharge from the
hospital in September 2013. She was treated by psychiatrist,
Dr. Jeffrey Harazin, M.D. He diagnosed her as suffering from
PTSD, and prescribed Lamictal. Ms. Shelton met regularly with
Dr. Harazin from November 2013 through June 2014, and once
every few weeks from November 2014 through mid 2015. In
November 2013, due to her depression, he increased the
prescribed Lamictal dosage. Then, in January 2014, Dr.
Harazin changed Ms. Shelton's antidepressants due to side
effects. In February 2014, Ms. Shelton reported still feeling
depressed, but indicated some improvement; she also reported
that the new antidepressant was causing her to experience
anger issues, and Dr. Harazin discontinued it and increased
her prescribed dosage of Lamictal. By the end of March, Dr.
Harazin's treatment notes reflect that Ms. Shelton
reported “feel[ing] good” and maintaining a
continued euthymic mood. However, by April 2014, Ms. Shelton
told Dr. Harazin that she was experiencing mood
deterioration, and there is some indication in his notes that
she had stopped taking her medication.
end of April 2014, Ms. Shelton was hospitalized again for
suicidal ideation. This hospitalization followed her trip to
El Paso where she says that she blacked out. She reported
that she had stopped taking her Lamictal and had become
irritable, agitated and aggressive. At the hospital, she was
started on Latuda. Ms. Shelton was stabilized and discharged
on April 25, 2014, and resumed treatment with Dr. Harazin. On
April 30, 2014, his notes reported a euthymic mood. On May
29, 2014, she reported that the Latuda was causing her to
develop rage, and it was discontinued. She also complained of
anxiety but refused any medications to treat that. Dr.
Harazin again reported a euthymic mood but noted that Ms.
Shelton appeared anxious. Dr. Harazin also prescribed
Trileptal. In June 2014, Dr. Harazin's notes reflect that
Ms. Shelton had stopped taking the Trileptal but agreed to
restart it. Later that month, another entry in the notes
indicates that Ms. Shelton was complaining of depression, and
she agreed to increase the Trileptal dosage. A June 26, 2014
entry notes that Ms. Shelton seemed “much
improved” with a euthymic mood, and that the only real
symptom she was experiencing was her memory problems, which
possibly or even likely were attributable to her liver
condition. The note indicates that Dr. Harazin believed she
was responding to her medications.
in July 2014, Ms. Shelton reported to Dr. Harazin that she
had misrepresented her mental status at the previous session,
and in fact, she was very depressed and her medications were
no longer working. Dr. Harazin ordered an increased dose and
prescribed additional medications. In August 2014, Dr.
Harazin's treatment notes reflect that Ms. Shelton