United States District Court, D. Colorado
ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING DISABILITY
S. KRIEGER UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE.
MATTER comes before the Court as an appeal from the
Commissioner's Final Administrative Decision
(“Decision”) determining that the Plaintiff Harry
Fowler is not disabled within the meaning of sections 216(i),
223(d), and 1614(a)(3)(A) of the Social Security Act. Having
considered all of the documents filed, including the record
(#11), the Court now finds and concludes as
Court has jurisdiction over an appeal from a final decision
of the Commissioner under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Mr. Fowler
filed applications for disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”) and supplemental security income
(“SSI”) under the Social Security Act on March
14, 2014. The state agency denied his claim. He requested a
hearing, and a supplemental hearing, before an Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”), who issued an unfavorable
decision. Mr. Fowler appealed to the Appeals Council, which
denied his request for review, making the ALJ's
determination the final decision of the Commissioner. Mr.
Fowler timely appealed to this Court, which reviews the
ALJ's decision as the Commissioner's final denial of
benefits. Doyal v. Barnhart, 331 F.3d 758, 759 (10th
Court offers a brief summary of the facts here and elaborates
as necessary in its analysis below.
Fowler was born in 1961. He was 47 years old at the alleged
onset of his disability in January 2009. The record reflects
he has a work history as carpenter, and in various other jobs
including driving a forklift. He testified before the ALJ
that he earned engineering credit while in the Navy and has
an Associate's degree related to computers. As summarized
by the ALJ and further detailed below, his relevant medical
history includes extensive hospitalizations and related
treatments for abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting,
beginning around March 2010. He has reported to medical
providers that his ex-wife poisoned him with arsenic in 2001.
At different times, he has been diagnosed with a bowel
disorder related to arsenic poisoning, a neuropathic bowel
disorder, irritable bowel syndrome, cyclic vomiting syndrome,
and cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome.
Fowler also has a history of marijuana use relevant to the
issues raised here. Since at least April 2010, he has
reported that marijuana use abates or alleviates his
symptoms. However, since at least since July 2011, certain
medical providers have suggested his symptoms are caused by
marijuana use, and have diagnosed cannabinoid hyperemesis
syndrome. Mr. Fowler maintains in this appeal that his
symptoms are caused by cyclic vomiting syndrome.
analyzed this case pursuant to the sequential five-step
inquiry. At step one, the ALJ found Mr. Fowler had not
engaged in substantial gainful activity since January 31,
2009. (#14 at 26).
two, the ALJ found that Mr. Fowler “has the following
medically determinable impairments: cannabis hyperemesis
syndrome, a history of arsenic poisoning, chronic renal
failure, a history of neck pain, affective disorder, and
substance abuse disorder.” Id. But, the ALJ
then found that none of Mr. Fowler's impairments, alone
or in combination, were severe, instead determining that Mr.
Fowler “does not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that has significantly limited (or is expected to
significantly limit) the ability to perform basic
work-related activities for 12 consecutive months; therefore,
[Mr. Fowler] does not have a severe impairment or combination
of impairments, ” as defined by the Social Security Act
and the Commissioner's Regulations. Id. The ALJ
therefore found Mr. Fowler was not disabled as defined by the
Social Security Act, and the ALJ's analysis ended at step
Fowler raises three issues on appeal: (1) Whether the
ALJ's conclusion that he did not have a severe impairment
was supported by substantial evidence; (2) Whether the ALJ
erred by depending on objective tests and exam results; and,
(3) Whether the ALJ improperly evaluated the opinion of Mr.
Fowler's primary care provider, Dr. Hans Elzinga, M.D.