United States District Court, D. Colorado
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Y. WANG MAGISTRATE JUDGE
civil action arises under Title XVI of the Social Security
Act (“Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-83(c),
for review of the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration's (“Commissioner” or
“Defendant”) final decision denying Plaintiff
Timothy Miller's (“Plaintiff” or “Mr.
Miller”) application for Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”). Pursuant to the Parties' consent
[#13], this civil action was referred to this Magistrate
Judge for a decision on the merits. See [#21]; 28
U.S.C. § 636(c); Fed.R.Civ.P. 73; D.C.COLO.LCivR 72.2.
Upon review of the Parties' briefing, the entire case
file, the Administrative Record, and the applicable case law,
this court respectfully AFFIRMS the
available to an individual who is financially eligible, files
an application for SSI, and is disabled as defined in the
Act. 42 U.S.C. § 1382. An individual is under a
disability only if his “physical or mental impairment
or impairments are of such severity that he is not only
unable to do his previous work but cannot, considering his
age, education, and work experience, engage in any other kind
of substantial gainful work which exists in the national
economy[.]” 42 U.S.C. § 13382c(a)(3)(B). The
disabling impairment must last, or be expected to last, for
at least 12 consecutive months. See Barnhart v.
Walton, 535 U.S. 212, 214-15 (2002); see also
42 U.S.C. § 1382c(a)(3)(A); 20 C.F.R. § 416.905.
And when a claimant has one or more physical or mental
impairments, the Commissioner must consider the combined
effects in making a disability determination. 42 U.S.C.
§ 1382c(a)(3)(G). The earliest a claimant can receive
SSI is the month following the month within which the
claimant filed her application, and thus the claimant must
establish that she was disabled on or prior to her
application date. See 20 C.F.R. §§
416.200, 416.335; see also Id. § 416.912(b)(1)
(“Before we make a determination that you are not
disabled, we will develop your complete medical history for
at least the 12 months preceding the month in which you file
Commissioner has developed a five-step evaluation process for
determining whether a claimant is disabled under the Act. 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4), 416.920(a)(4). These
1. Whether the claimant has engaged in substantial gainful
2. Whether the claimant has a medically severe impairment or
combination of impairments;
3. Whether the claimant has an impairment that meets or
medically equals any listing found at Title 20, Chapter III,
Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1;
4. Whether the claimant has the Residual Functional Capacity
(“RFC”) to perform her past relevant work; and
5. Whether the claimant can perform work that exists in the
national economy, considering the claimant's RFC, age,
education, and work experience.
See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520(a)(4)(i)-(v),
416.920(a)(4)(i)-(v). See also Williams v. Bowen,
844 F.2d 748, 750-52 (10th Cir. 1988) (describing the five
steps in detail). “The claimant bears the burden of
proof through step four of the analysis[, ]” while the
Commissioner bears the burden of proof at step five.
Neilson v. Sullivan, 992 F.2d 1118, 1120 (10th Cir.
1993). “If a determination can be made at any of the
steps that a claimant is or is not disabled, evaluation under
a subsequent step is not necessary.” Lax v.
Astrue, 489 F.3d 1080, 1084 (10th Cir. 2007) (internal
quotation marks omitted).
reviewing the Commissioner's final decision, the court
limits its inquiry to whether substantial evidence supports
the final decision and whether the Commissioner applied the
correct legal standards. See Vallejo v. Berryhill,
849 F.3d 951, 954 (10th Cir. 2017). “Substantial
evidence is more than a mere scintilla and is such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.” Flaherty v. Astrue, 515
F.3d 1067, 1070 (10th Cir. 2007) (internal citation omitted);
accord Musgrave v. Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1371, 1374
(10th Cir. 1992) (“Evidence is not substantial if it is
overwhelmed by other evidence in the record or constitutes
mere conclusion.”). “But in making this
determination, [the court] cannot reweigh the evidence or
substitute [its] judgment for the administrative law
judge's.” Smith v. Colvin, 821 F.3d 1264,
1266 (10th Cir. 2016).
Miller, born April 5, 1965, alleges he became disabled on May
1, 2015, at 50 years-of-age, due to mental
problems/depression, psychotic, hernia, bad knees and ankles,
irritability with people, dislocated shoulder, and diabetes.
See [#10-3 at 86-87,  89; #10-5 at 163; #10-6 at 175,
179, 185]. Because Mr. Miller's appeal focuses on his
mental impairments and chronic pain, the following discussion
focuses solely on those ailments.
began treating with Paul Freda, M.D. in 1993 following a
nervous breakdown and attempted suicide. See [#10-2
at 54-55]. Dr. Freda diagnosed Plaintiff with Major
Depressive Disorder Recurrent - Severe with Psychotic,
see [#10-9 at 333; #10-10 at 411], and treatment
notes from 2009 report that Plaintiff maintained his
medication well in the past six months, that he felt like he
had made progress in reducing his worry about his salvation,
that he had successfully met his goal concerning his grief,
and that he had improved his social interactions,
see [#10-9 at 334]. A psychiatric exam revealed that
Plaintiff was oriented and had an “okay” mood,
consistent affect, average cognition/intellect, good insight
to self, logical thinking, good problem solving, good
emotional regulation, some pressured thoughts, no suicidal or
homicidal ideation, good self-regulation, and some voices
disturbing him. See [id.]. Dr. Freda noted
on February 3, 2014 that Plaintiff was “[d]oing the
best I have seen, ” and Plaintiff's August 22, 2014
psychiatric exam was normal as was his psychomotor activity,
his mood was euthymic, his affect was pleasant, and he was
good natured with emotional and behavioral stability.
See [id. at 338-41].
saw his treating physician Jesus Perez, M.D. on January 7,
2015 for a follow-up on his diabetes and mood disorder, and
Dr. Perez noted that plaintiff “cont[inued] to overall
do well” and was a “[p]leasant patient in no
acute distress.” [#10-9 at 324]. Plaintiff returned to
Dr. Perez on February 11, 2015, and Dr. Perez reported that
Plaintiff was pleasant and in no apparent distress.
See [id. at 322]. On March 3, 2015, Dr.
Freda reported that Plaintiff was “[d]oing quite
well” psychiatrically, that Mr. Miller's
psychiatric exam was normal, that Plaintiff's psychomotor
activity, mood, and affect were unchanged, and that Plaintiff
“continue[d] to be his jovial self, very good natured
and continue[d] with euthymia”; Plaintiff also stated
he was “sleeping and eating well” and denied
“elements of depression, anxiety, psychosis, hypomania
or paranoia.” [Id. at 346-48].
14, 2015, Dr. Freda reported that Mr. Miller was oriented and
had a logical and coherent thought process and content,
normal speech and tone, good mood, consistent affect, erratic
sleep, and daily thoughts of suicidal ideation with some
plans but no intent. See [#10-10 at 412]; see
also [id. at 420 (same as of May 24, 2016), 424
(same as of October 1, 2016)]. On May 18, 2015, Plaintiff
presented to Dr. Perez, complaining of right shoulder pain
after throwing a tire, though he retained good range of
motion, see [#10-9 at 320]; Dr. Perez indicated that
a shoulder x-ray was unremarkable and revealed, “No
acute fracture or dislocation. No. significant degenerative
change. No. focal lytic or sclerotic lesions” despite a
history of pain. See [#10-8 at 268; #10-9 at 313].
On May 22, 2015, Dr. Freda noted that Mr. Miller's
psychiatric exam was normal, he “denie[d] suicidal or
destructive thoughts or urges and [did not] endorse elements
of hypomania, ” and was sleeping and eating well, and
Dr. Freda reported that Plaintiff was depressed and sad when
discussing a recent DUI but his thoughts appeared logical and
rational and he was “coping much better than he would
have years ago.” See [#10-9 at 350-53].
Freda reported that Mr. Miller was “[d]oing the best I
have seen in a long time” on August 3, 2015, and Dr.
Freda noted that Plaintiff's psychiatric exam was normal,
that he met a woman online, he was coping better with his
feelings toward God, he was sleeping and eating well, and had
a euthymic mood and pleasant and cheerful affect.
See [#10-9 at 354-57]. Plaintiff presented to Dr.
Perez on August 5, 2015, complaining of “a little bit
of LG shoulder bursitis” that was “almost 100%
better, but still any kind of pushing, pulling action will
kind of flare it up for a few days.” [#10-9 at 316].
Dr. Perez also noted that Plaintiff denied “any arm
numbness, ” had no new injuries or trauma, had a
history of “bipolar with anxiety component, ”
that Mr. Miller was not suicidal or homicidal and his
medication was working well, ” that Plaintiff's
physical exam was largely normal, and that Plaintiff would
receive physical therapy. [Id. at 316-17]. Treatment
notes dated August 13, 2015 reveal that Mr. Miller was alert
and oriented and answered questions appropriately.
See [id. at 314].
September 3, 2015, Plaintiff completed a Personal Pain
Questionnaire and Function Report. See [#10-6 at
187, 189]. Mr. Miller averred that he struggled with daily
aching pain in his knees, right shoulder, and ankle, which
cold weather and movement exacerbated and which did not
respond well to Aleve or Tylenol. See [id.
at 187]. Mr. Miller also averred that he struggled with
severe depression recurring with psychotic features and
diabetes which, in combination with his other ailments, made
it difficult to do house or yard work, work, concentrate,
focus, or leave the house. See [id. at
190-94]. Despite being able to handle basic hygienic tasks,
Plaintiff stated that his ailments made it difficult to lift
more than 10 pounds, squat, bend, stand, reach, walk more
than 1 block, sit, kneel, talk, hear, climb stairs, see,
remember, complete tasks, concentrate more than 5-6 minutes,
understand, follow instructions more than a recipe, use his
hands, and get along with others. See [id.
at 190, 194-95]. He also noted that his medications cause
several side-effects, such as sleepiness, dizziness,
drowsiness, sensitivity to light, diarrhea, and stomach
issues. See [id. at 196].
psychiatric exam was normal on November 19, 2015, and he
“denie[d] suicidal or destructive thoughts or urges and
really has no complaints of a psychiatric nature.”
See [#10-10 at 416-18]. Dr. Freda reported that
Plaintiff had a euthymic mood, pleasant and cheerful affect,
intact associations, logical and rational thoughts, and that
there were no signs of clinical depression, anxiety,
psychosis, hypomania, or paranoia. [Id. at 419].
April 5, 2016, Mr. Miller's psychiatric exam was normal,
and Dr. Freda noted that “[t]here seems to be a
maturation process in progress, ” that Mr. Miller was
coping with various life events (e.g., filing for bankruptcy
and disability), was enjoying playing video games online, was
paying less than adequate attention to his appearance and
hygiene, and had an euthymic mood, intact associations,
logical and rational thoughts, and no evidence of suicidal,
homicidal, hypomanic, paranoid, psychotic processes or
breakthrough anxiety or palpable depression. See
[#10-10 at 428-31]. Mr. Miller's psychiatric exam was
also normal on July 27, 2016, and Dr. Freda reported that Mr.
Miller “is really doing pretty good, ” which ...