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Sturgis v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Arizona

September 13, 2019

Sherry Sturgis, Plaintiff,
v.
Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          ORDER

          LESLIE A. BOWMAN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         The plaintiff filed this action for review of the final decision of the Commissioner for Social Security pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). (Doc. 1, p. 1)

         The Magistrate Judge presides over this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) having received the written consent of both parties. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 73; (Doc. 13)

         The ALJ in this case failed to give specific and legitimate reasons for discounting the opinion of the treating physician. The case is remanded for further proceedings.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         In November of 2014, Fitzgerald filed applications for disability insurance benefits pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act. (Tr. 10) She alleged disability beginning on February 1, 2013, due to “left thumb injury, fibromyalgia, dystrophy to left foot, arthritis in fingers, anxiety, hematoma in glut[e].” (Tr. 230)

         Her application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. (Tr. 103-107); (Tr. 113-117). Sturgis requested review and appeared with counsel at a hearing before Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Randolph Schum on November 6, 2017. (Tr. 34) In his decision, dated April 2, 2018, the ALJ found Sturgis was not disabled because she can still work as a patient representative and office manager. (Tr. 10-20) Sturgis requested review, but on October 31, 2018, the Appeals Council denied review making the decision of the ALJ the final decision of the Commissioner. (Tr. 1-3) Sturgis subsequently filed this action appealing that final decision. (Doc. 1)

         Claimant's Work History and Medical History

         Sturgis was born in May of 1953. (Tr. 200) She was 64 years old when ALJ issued his decision in September of 2017. (Tr. 48) She was 59 years old on her alleged onset date. (Tr. 230) She finished 11th grade in high school but did not graduate. (Tr. 35)

         In February of 2013, Sturgis was employed selling jewelry to tourists at a cruise ship pier. (Tr. 37) She was driving a moped to work when she was struck by a Toyota Tundra making a left turn into a driveway. (Tr. 37) Five and one-half months later, her doctors released her to “light duty” work, but there was no such work available from her employer. (Tr. 38)

         Mental Impairment

         In June of 2015, Hillary Weiss, Ph.D., reviewed the medical record for the disability determination service and offered an opinion of Sturgis's mental impairment. (Tr. 68) Weiss considered the listings for an anxiety-related disorder. (Tr. 67) She then evaluated Sturgis's “B” listing criteria, which gauge the severity of her limitations. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520a(c)(3). Weiss found Sturgis has “mild” difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace and no evidence of decompensation. (Tr. 67) Weiss further opined that the medical evidence did not establish the presence of the “C” criteria, which are an alternative gauge of the extent of Sturgis's mental impairment. (Tr. 67) Weiss concluded that Sturgis's mental impairment is non-severe. (Tr. 67)

         In January of 2016, Kim Morris, Psy.D., reviewed the medical record for the disability determination service and offered an opinion of Sturgis's mental impairment. (Tr. 88) Morris considered the listings for an affective disorder and an anxiety-related disorder. (Tr. 87) She evaluated Sturgis's “B” listing criteria. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1520a(c)(3). Morris found Sturgis has “mild” restrictions of activities of daily living; “mild” difficulties in maintaining social functioning; “mild” difficulties in maintaining concentration, persistence, or pace; and no evidence of decompensation. (Tr. 87-88) Morris further opined that the medical evidence did not establish the presence of the “C” criteria. (Tr. 88) Morris concluded that Sturgis's mental impairment is non-severe. (Tr. 87)

         Physical Impairment

         In June of 2015, Alicia V. Blando, M.D., reviewed the medical records for the disability determination services. (Tr. 72) Blando opined that Sturgis can lift or carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. (Tr. 69) She can stand, walk, or sit for 6 hours in an 8-hour work day. (Tr. 69) She should only occasionally climb ramps, stairs, ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. (Tr. 69-70) She is limited in handling and fingering with her right hand. (Tr. 70) She should avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold due to her fibromyalgia. (Tr. 70-71)

         In January of 2016, E. Christian, M.D., reviewed the medical records for the disability determination services. (Tr. 93) Christian opined that Sturgis can lift or carry 20 pounds occasionally and 10 pounds frequently. (Tr. 90) She can stand or walk for about 6 hours in an 8-hour work day. (Tr. 90) She should only occasionally climb ramps, stairs, ladders, ropes, or scaffolds. (Tr. 90) Her ability to handle and finger is limited on her right hand. (Tr. 90) She should avoid concentrated exposure to extreme cold, fumes, odors, gusts, gases, poor ventilation and hazards. (Tr. 91)

         On November 19, 2014, Steven Santoyo, M.D., Sturgis's treating physician, provided a medical opinion of Sturgis's physical impairments. (Tr. 435-444) He diagnosed fibromyalgia, reflex sympathetic dystrophy of left foot/leg, anxiety, teporomandibular joint pain, right thumb pain/weakness, and LBP (low back pain). (Tr. 435) He opined that Sturgis can walk one block without rest. (Tr. 436) She can sit for about 2 hours and stand/walk for less then 2 hours in an 8-hour day. (Tr. 437) She can lift less than 10 pounds occasionally. (Tr. 437) She should never climb ladders and only rarely crouch or squat. (Tr. 437) She can use her ...


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