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Fowler v. Commissioner, Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Colorado

June 1, 2018

HARRY FOWLER, Plaintiff,



         THIS 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 follows:


         The 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 Cir. 2003).


         The Court offers a brief summary of the facts here and elaborates as necessary in its analysis below.

         Mr. 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.

         Mr. 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.


         The ALJ 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).

         At step 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 two.


         Mr. 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.

         STANDARD ...

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