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Warson v. Commissioner, Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Colorado

August 21, 2019

ELEIA WARSON, Plaintiff,



         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on the Plaintiff's Complaint (# 1), the Plaintiff's Opening Brief (# 14), the Defendant's Response (# 15), and the Plaintiff's Reply (# 16). For the following reasons, the Commissioner's decision is reversed, and the matter is remanded for further proceedings.


         The Court has jurisdiction over an appeal from a final decision of the Commissioner under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).


         A. Procedural History

         Plaintiff Eleia Warson (“Ms. Warson”) seeks judicial review of a final decision by the Defendant Commissioner (“Commissioner”) denying both her claim for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and application for supplemental security income (“SSI”) under the Social Security Act. In August 2014, Ms. Warson filed for DIB, claiming she became disabled as of January 13, 2014. (# 9-9 at 483). In October 2014, Ms. Warson filed for SSI. (# 9-9 at 485). Following two hearings held on October 4, 2016 and March 22, 2017 before the same Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), Ms. Warson received an unfavorable decision in April 2017 (“Decision”). (# 9-2 at 48-64). Ms. Warson appealed that Decision to the Appeals Council. However, on May 1, 2018, the Appeals Counsel denied her Request for Review. (# 9-2 at 1-14). Ms. Warson now appeals the final agency action to this Court.

         B. Factual Background

         The Court offers a brief summary of the facts here and elaborates as necessary in its discussion. Ms. Warson was born on February 10, 1969. (# 9-2 at 62). She was 44 years old on her initially-alleged disability onset date in January 2014 and 48 years old at the time of the ALJ's Decision. (# 9-2 at 62). She has a high school education and work history in physically demanding jobs such as: Quality Control Inspector; Laser Sintering Technician; Weigh Room Technician; Warehouse Associate; Senior Production Operator; and Machinist. (# 9-10 at 547-558).

         Ms. Warson alleges she became disabled on January 14, 2014 due to migraine headaches, confusion, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”), restless leg syndrome, herniated lumbar discs, cervical stenosis, cubital tunnel syndrome, and degenerative joint disease. (# 9-10 at 532). In October 2014, Ms. Warson had neck surgery, but she continued to have back and leg pain and stiffness. (# 9-13 at 904). Thus, on May 13, 2015, she underwent low back surgery (bilateral L3-4, L-45 and L5 laminectomy with bilateral foraminotomies L3-L4). (# 9-17 at 1010). Due to surgical complications, Ms. Warson developed a MRSA infection, was subsequently hospitalized twice, and was on IV antibiotics until November 2015. (# 9-17 at 1010; # 10 at 1179-10-20 at 2270). In December 2015, while Ms. Warson reported having nausea and stomach pain related to the antibiotics, her back pain had subsided, and the records indicated her “back is well healed.” (# 10-12 at 1952-62).

         Additionally, Ms. Warson's history of migraine headaches is well documented in the record, including treatment from various providers spanning several years. (# 9-10 at 572; # 9-11 at 631-635, 647-664, 678, 685; # 9-12 at 773; # 9-4 at 194; # 9-14 at 853-858; # 10-21 at 2328, 2331, 2338, 2340, 2352, 2356, 2360, 2376, 2406). Further, at the March 2017 hearing before the ALJ, Ms. Warson testified to her continuing struggles with migraine headaches. (# 9-5 at 288-292).

         In addition, the record reflects mental health impairments, including anxiety and depression and a diagnosis of PTSD, which is the focus of this appeal. Ms. Warson's PTSD and related treatment is well documented in the record. (# 9-11 at 672; # 9-12 at 699, 707, 709, 712-713, 717-720, 722-724; # 9-14 at 864-868, 872, 899). In March 2014, Ms. Warson sought treatment at Aspen Pointe for major depressive disorder and PTSD. (# 9-12 at 700-710). An Aspen Pointe Clinical Assessment report revealed a diagnosis of PTSD as a result of sexual abuse Ms. Warson suffered when she was a child. (# 9-12 at 700). Aspen Pointe providers reported PTSD as an Axis I clinical disorder. (# 9-11 at 672). The records indicate that as a result of her PTSD, Ms. Warson experienced: nightmares; avoidance of stimuli; feelings of detachment; a sense of a foreshortened future; and anger outbursts. (# 9-12 at 709). Ms. Warson participated in therapy and was prescribed various prescription medications in order to manage her PTSD symptoms. (# 9-12 at 700-724). On January 12, 2015, Karen Rice, M.D. diagnosed Ms. Warson with PTSD and major depressive disorder and found that her past childhood trauma was likely the cause of her depression and PTSD. (# 9-14 at 868). Dr. Rice's treatment notes characterized Ms. Warson's PTSD as “unstable” and recommended “critical” treatment for her condition. (# 9-14 at 865, 867). Dr. Rice recommended a treatment plan that included both therapy sessions and a prescription medication protocol. (# 9-14 at 867).

         In November 2014, state agency psychologist Irwin Matus, Ph.D. also assessed Ms. Warson's mental impairments and formulated his own Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”) assessment. Dr. Matus found Ms. Warson had the following limitations in sustained concentration and persistence: (1) not significantly limited in carrying out short and simple instructions; (2) moderately limited in carrying out detailed instructions; (3) moderately limited in the ability to maintain attention and concentration for extended periods; (4) moderately limited in the ability to perform activities within a schedule, maintain regular attendance, and be punctual within customary tolerances; (5) not significantly limited in sustaining an ordinary routine; (6) no limitation as to working in coordination or proximity to others without being distracted by them; (7) not significantly limited in making simple work-related decisions; (8) moderately limited in the ability to complete a normal workday or workweek without interruptions from psychologically based symptoms and to perform at a consistent pace without an unreasonable number and length of rest periods; and (9) no limitations in social interactions. (# 9-6 at 314-15). Dr. Matus noted Ms. Warson's PTSD, depression, confusion, and multiple medical conditions and concluded that her anxiety and mood are generally stable while she is taking her medications. He opined that Ms. Warson could sustain lower end, moderately complex work tasks. (# 9-6 at 315).

         C. The ...

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