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Noxon v. Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Colorado

November 1, 2018

ROBERT J. NOXON, Plaintiff,



         This is a Social Security Benefits appeal brought under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Plaintiff Robert J. Noxon (“Plaintiff”) challenges the final decision of Defendant, the Social Security Administration (“Administration”), denying his application for period of disability and disability insurance benefits. After a hearing, the denial was affirmed by an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), who ruled that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. This appeal followed.

         For the reasons set forth below, the Administration's decision to deny Plaintiff's application for disability insurance benefits is reversed and this matter is remanded for an immediate award of benefits.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was born on 1956 and was 59 years old on the date last insured. (Administrative Record (“R.”) (ECF No. 11) at 347.) Plaintiff grew up in Colorado and has a bachelor's degree in education and pastoral ministry, and some vocational training. (R. at 245, 340.) Plaintiff has held 25 jobs in the last 14 years. (R. at 124-30.) His past relevant work experience includes a broad range of professions, including school teacher, sales clerk, pharmacy technician, and shuttle bus driver. (R. at 347.) Plaintiff claims that he has been disabled since September 1, 2012 due to a combination of mental health impairments including bipolar disorder (depressed without psychosis), anxiety disorder, dependent personality disorder, and ADHD. (R. at 339; ECF No. 15 at 6.)

         Plaintiff began treatment with Mr. Ronald Baptist, M.A., LPC in 2004. Mr. Baptist provided treatment including psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. (R. at 824-27.) Plaintiff had regular sessions with Mr. Baptist from August 18, 2004 through November 9, 2004, July 7, 2005 through April 18, 2006, and from September 2009 to the present. (R. at 185, 824-27.) Plaintiff has had at least 289 one-hour sessions with Mr. Baptist as of the time of filing this appeal. (R. at 316-17, 824-27.) Mr. Baptist consistently observed that Plaintiff demonstrated agitation, a tangential and disconnected verbal style, and an awkward interpersonal style alternating between states of relatively normal presentation and obvious anxiety and insecurity. (R. at 189.) Mr. Baptist explained that Plaintiff comes across as very normal, but then he “gets triggered and he starts building stress, rejection, and struggling with his sense of being [inadequate] and being dependent. . . . and then it usually leads to frustration, and the next thing is some kind of anger outburst.” (R. at 320.)

         Mr. Baptist noted that “for most of the time that [Plaintiff] is awake and aware, he is experiencing a significant amount of anxiety.” (R. at 319.) Plaintiff's anxiety and dependent personality disorder impacts all aspects of Plaintiff's life. (R. at 319.) This combination of mental health issues leads to a troublesome, ineffective, and dysfunctional way of relating to people. (R. at 322.) This interferes with his personal relationships and leads to difficulty with supervisors. (R. at 319, 323-24.) For instance, Plaintiff plays the saxophone, but cannot work with other musicians because he fails to maintain those relationships-ultimately Baptist had to stop encouraging him to seek band mates because these relationships would “end in some kind of trouble.” (R. at 326.)

         Mr. Baptist further noted that even on Ritalin, Plaintiff struggled to focus. (R. at 326-27.) This would manifest in conversation, where Plaintiff would get sidetracked, tangential, and off-focus, “even when he's doing fairly well.” (Id.) Moreover, Mr. Baptist observed that changes in a routine work setting cause Plaintiff distress and that some of Plaintiff's job losses were directly related to his panic when a policy was changed. (R. at 328.)

         Mr. Baptist opined-after at least 289 sessions with Plaintiff-that as a result of his mental health impairments, Plaintiff would be precluded from performing the following functions for at least 20% of the workday:

• perform activities within a schedule, maintain regular attendance, and be punctual within customary tolerances, and
• respond appropriately to changes in a routine work setting. (R. at 187.)

         Mr. Baptist further opined that Plaintiff would be precluded from performing the following functions for at least 15% of the workday:

• remember work-like procedures
• maintain attention and concentration for extended periods,
• sustain an ordinary routine without special supervision,
• make simple work-related decisions,
• perform at a consistent pace without an unreasonable number and length of breaks, and
• accept instructions and respond appropriately to criticism from supervisors. (Id.)

         Plaintiff also saw a psychiatrist, Dr. Stephen Mueller, M.D., about once every one to three months, beginning in 2010. (R. at 622.) Dr. Mueller diagnosed Plaintiff with bipolar disorder (depressed, not psychotic), generalized anxiety disorder, attention deficit disorder, bipolar disorder, and dependent personality disorder. (R. at 232.) Dr. Mueller also adjusted Plaintiff's psychiatric medications, which included Depakote, Celexa, and Ritalin. Dr. Mueller observed that Plaintiff would blow up, throw things, get angry, yell, hit tables, and had lashed out at his mother and ex-wife-his girlfriend had to call the police when Plaintiff hit his girlfriend's window with a stick. (R. at 653-54.) According to Dr. Mueller, Plaintiff was depressed, extremely lonely, “gets an attitude too quickly, ” never wants to be single, and has suicidal thoughts when rejected. (Id.)

         Additionally, Plaintiff had two emergency room visits for anxiety. (Id.) Between 2011 and 2015, Plaintiff was fired from seven jobs for angry outbursts. (R. at 631-644.) In 2015, Plaintiff got a new job, which he held until the time of the second hearing in 2017. (R. at 626.) He managed to sustain this job because he worked part time and was given significant accommodations, including a flexible schedule. (R. at 538-541.) In early 2017, Dr. Mueller maintained that Plaintiff was only capable of low stress, part time work. (R. at 756.)

         Dr. Mueller also found that Plaintiff has marked impairments in his ability to do the following:

• understand and learn terms, instructions, and procedures,
• identify and solve problems,
• sequence multi-step activities,
• use reason and judgment to make work-related ...

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