Spickard v. Colvin
ORDER: Commissioner's decision is REVERSED and REMANDED for further findings. by Judge R. Brooke Jackson on 7/20/17. (jdyne, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLORADO
Judge R. Brooke Jackson
Civil Action No. 16-cv-01341-RBJ
RYAN MICHAEL SPICKARD,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, * Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration,
ORDER REVERSING AND REMANDING THE COMMISSIONER’S DECISION
This matter is before the Court on review of the Social Security Administration
Commissioner’s decision denying claimant Ryan M. Spickard’s application for Supplemental
Security Income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. Jurisdiction is proper under
42 U.S.C. § 405(g). For the reasons explained below, the Court reverses and remands the
STANDARD OF REVIEW
This appeal is based upon the administrative record and the parties’ briefs. In reviewing
a final decision by the Commissioner, the District Court examines the record and determines
whether it contains substantial evidence to support the Commissioner’s decision and whether the
Commissioner applied the correct legal standards. Winfrey v. Chater, 92 F.3d 1017, 1019 (10th
In accordance with Rule 25(d) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Nancy A. Berryhill is substituted
for Carolyn W. Colvin as the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration.
Cir. 1996). A decision is not based on substantial evidence if it is “overwhelmed by other
evidence in the record.” Bernal v. Bowen, 851 F.2d 297, 299 (10th Cir. 1988). Substantial
evidence requires “more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance.” Wall v. Astrue, 561
F.3d 1048, 1052 (10th Cir. 2009). Evidence is not substantial if it “constitutes mere conclusion.”
Musgrave v. Sullivan, 966 F.2d 1371, 1374 (10th Cir. 1992). Reversal may also be appropriate if
the Commissioner applies an incorrect legal standard or fails to demonstrate that the correct legal
standards have been followed. Winfrey, 92 F.3d at 1019.
Mr. Spickard was born in 1979 and is now 38 years old. See R. 170. He is a high school
dropout, quitting after tenth grade when he began to display symptoms of a psychological
disorder. R. 175, 217, 285. After leaving high school he worked brief stints in a restaurant and a
hospital, but he was unable to hold a job because of his mental health issues. R. 180, 217, 277.
He has not worked in the twenty years since then. R. 164–65, 175.
In 2001 Mr. Spickard was hospitalized for a psychotic experience and was diagnosed
with schizophrenia, which doctors later characterized more precisely as schizoaffective disorder.
R. 217, 281. Not long afterward he was found to be disabled and was awarded Supplemental
Security Income benefits. See R. 170, 276. To help manage his symptoms, he began selfmedicating by smoking marijuana regularly in addition to taking his prescription medications.
In roughly January 2009 Mr. Spickard stopped taking his medications—including, at one
time or another, Abilify, Ativan, Celexa, Geodon, Lamictal, Paxil, Prozac, Risperdal, Xanax,
Zoloft, and Zyprexa—because he found them ineffective and did not think they were worth their
negative side effects. See R. 218, 285, 297, 375–76, 384. Later that year, in October 2009, he
attempted suicide and was admitted to a hospital. R. 373, 376. He was discharged within days
and prescribed Valium, but he stopped taking it after about a month because he developed a
tolerance to its effects. R. 368, 382. A few months later he readmitted himself to the hospital
after suffering severe panic attacks. R. 368. He began to take Zoloft around this time, but
discontinued all medication again at some point in 2010. See R. 285, 366.
Still off his medications, Mr. Spickard was incarcerated on charges of arson, burglary,
and trespass in October 2011. R. 284, 286. His disability benefits were terminated at this time
due to his incarceration status. See R. 172. In March 2012 he was evaluated by a psychologist
and was found incompetent to stand trial. R. 291. He was reevaluated in June 2012 and was
again found mentally incompetent. R. 400. He was then committed to a psychiatric hospital,
apparently released, and readmitted in August 2012. See R. 387, 395. There he participated in
structured group therapy and began taking the antipsychotic drug Latuda. R. 389–90. After a
month of treatment he was found competent to stand trial and was discharged from the hospital.
R. 394, 402.
Mr. Spickard has been compliant with his mental health treatment since then. See R.
292–346. He has not used marijuana since he got arrested in 2011. R. 47. He now lives with his
father and spends most of his time just “sitting at home.” R. 43, 186.
A. Procedural History.
On April 25, 2013 Mr. Spickard reapplied for Supplemental Security Income, alleging
disability beginning March 1, 2001. R. 170. The claim was initially denied on July 16, 2013. R.
82. Mr. Spickard requested a hearing, which was held in front of Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) Patricia E. Hartman on May 29, 2014. R. 36. The ALJ issued a decision denying
benefits on August 1, 2014. R. 23–31. The Appeals Council denied Mr. Spickard’s request for
review on March 30, 2016, rendering the ALJ’s determination the final decision of the
Commissioner for purposes of judicial review. R. 1. Mr. Spickard then filed a timely appeal in
B. The ALJ’s Decision.
The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision after evaluating the evidence according to the
Social Security Administration’s standard five-step process. First, she found that Mr. Spickard
had not engaged in substantial gainful activity since April 25, 2013, his application date. R. 25.
At step two, the ALJ found that Mr. Spickard had the severe impairments of schizoaffective
disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”), and cannabis dependence. 1 R. 25. At step
three, the ALJ concluded that Mr. Spickard did not have an impairment or combination of
impairments that met or medically equaled the severity of one of the listed impairments in 20
C.F.R. Part 404, Subpart P, Appendix 1. R. 25–26.
The ALJ then found that Mr. Spickard retained the residual functional capacity (“RFC”)
to perform a full range of work at all exertional levels subject to the following nonexertional
restrictions: he is limited to unskilled work involving simple, routine, and repetitive tasks; he
cannot work at unprotected heights or with dangerous unprotected machinery; he cannot work at
The ALJ’s reference to cannabis dependence is confusing because Mr. Spickard stopped using the drug
a year and a half before he applied for Supplemental Security Income, see R. 47, and his treatment notes
last mention his addiction in remission two years before the ALJ rendered her decision, see R. 293–310,
317–45. In any event, this outdated diagnosis seems to have had no bearing on the ALJ’s conclusion that
Mr. Spickard was not disabled. See R. 25–31.
a production-rate pace (e.g., on an assembly line); and he can occasionally interact with
supervisors and coworkers, but he cannot interact with the public as part of his job. R. 26–29.
At step four, the ALJ concluded that Mr. Spickard had no past relevant work. R. 30. At
step five, she determined that there were jobs that existed in significant numbers in the national
economy Mr. Spickard could perform. R. 30. Accordingly, the ALJ concluded that Mr.
Spickard was not disabled. R. 31.
In essence, Mr. Spickard contends that the ALJ improperly weighed Dr. Wanstrath’s and
Dr. Rosenblum’s opinions and erroneously found his subjective complaints not fully credible.
The Court will address each issue in turn.
A. Weighing Opinions.
The ALJ gave “great weight” to Dr. Wanstrath’s opinion and only “partial weight” to Dr.
Rosenblum’s opinion. R. 26, 29. Mr. Spickard takes issue with the ALJ’s evaluation of these
two opinions on the grounds that the ALJ misapplied the relevant legal standards and failed to
base her assessment in substantial evidence.
Both psychologists are acceptable medical sources, so their opinions must be weighed
with regard to the following six factors:
The examining relationship between the individual and the “acceptable
The treatment relationship between the individual and a treating source,
including its length, nature, and extent as well as frequency of examination;
The degree to which the “acceptable medical source” presents an explanation
and relevant evidence to support an opinion, particularly medical signs and
How consistent the medical opinion is with the record as a whole;
Whether the opinion is from an “acceptable medical source” who is a
specialist and is about medical issues related to his or her area of specialty;
Any other factors brought to our attention, or of which we are aware, which
tend to support or contradict the opinion.
Social Security Ruling (SSR) 06-03p, 2006 WL 2329939, at *3 (Aug. 9, 2006) (summarizing 20
C.F.R. § 416.927(c)).
Under the Chenery doctrine, the Court may not accept a post hoc rationalization for the
ALJ’s decision that is not clear from the decision itself. Grogan v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d 1257,
1263 (10th Cir. 2005). It follows from this principle that “[a]lthough the ALJ’s decision need
not include an explicit discussion of each factor, the record must reflect that the ALJ considered
every factor in the weight calculation.” Andersen v. Astrue, 319 F. App’x 712, 718 (10th Cir.
2009) (unpublished) (citation omitted). “The decision must articulate the ALJ’s reasoning such
that later reviewers can identify both the weight that was actually assigned to the opinion and the
reasons for that weight.” Id. at 719. In reviewing the decision, the Court may not reweigh the
evidence or displace the ALJ’s choice between two fairly conflicting views. Oldham v. Astrue,
509 F.3d 1254, 1257–58 (10th Cir. 2007).
1. Dr. Wanstrath’s opinion.
On July 15, 2013 Dr. Wanstrath completed a Mental RFC Assessment for Mr. Spickard.
R. 76–77. After reviewing several medical records, Dr. Wanstrath concluded that Mr. Spickard
was only “moderately” limited in his ability (1) to complete a normal workday and workweek
without interruptions from psychologically based symptoms and to perform at a consistent pace
without an unreasonable number and length of rest periods; (2) to accept instructions and
respond appropriately to criticism from supervisors; and (3) to maintain socially appropriate
behavior and adhere to basic standard of neatness and cleanliness. Id.
The ALJ recited Dr. Wanstrath’s opinion and then afforded it “great weight” because the
opinion was “consistent with the record as a whole” and Dr. Wanstrath had a thorough
understanding of the Social Security Administration’s disability programs and their evidentiary
requirements, though he never examined Mr. Spickard in person. R. 26, 29. The ALJ thus
appears to have applied the appropriate factors in weighing Dr. Wanstrath’s opinion.
However, there is insubstantial evidence for the view that Dr. Wanstrath’s opinion is
consistent with the record as a whole. The ALJ cites as relevant evidence: (1) that Mr. Spickard
engaged in “normal daily activities”; (2) that he “can function fairly well when he is compliant
with treatment”; and (3) that he received “treatment that has been essentially routine and/or
conservative in nature, with no indication of any need for more frequent or aggressive
treatment.” R. 28–29.
To the extent that the ALJ relied on Mr. Spickard’s “normal” daily activities, her decision
is flawed because she failed to articulate any reason that this evidence might support Dr.
Wanstrath’s opinion. The ALJ instead simply labeled Mr. Spickard’s daily activities as
“normal” and listed them as follows:
[T]he claimant reported attending to his own personal needs and hygiene,
preparing meals, performing household chores, yard work including mowing the
lawn, and household repairs such as fixing the yard fence. He can handle
finances, go out to eat, and go to movies, fishing, playing frisbee golf, and daily
walks. He spends time on his computer engaging in role-playing and computer
games. He enjoys art, writing, reading, and comics, and takes care of his dog.
R. 28–29. But Mr. Spickard’s taking care of chores, leaving the house for specific purposes, and
enjoying solitary hobbies have no obvious connection with the symptoms of his schizoaffective
disorder or PTSD. In fact, Social Security Administration guidance explains that there may be
no connection at all because “[i]ndividuals with mental disorders often adopt a highly restricted
and/or inflexible lifestyle within which they appear to function well.” SSR 85-15, 1985 WL
56857, at *6 (1985).
At most, Mr. Spickard’s activities outside his home might call into question his level of
anxiety, but the ALJ seriously exaggerates the nature of these activities. Mr. Spickard eats at a
restaurant “[m]aybe once or twice a year”; he ventures out to the movies “[m]aybe once a year”;
he goes fishing with his father “[a] couple of times a year”; and he mentioned playing Frisbee
golf with his mother once. See R. 51–52, 324. These are not daily activities by any stretch of the
imagination. And while Mr. Spickard regularly goes on short walks, he does so at the
recommendation of his treatment provider. See R. 303, 319. By contrast, the record repeatedly
notes that he spends most of his time at home to avoid the stresses of the outside world. See,
e.g., R. 303, 305, 307, 319, 322, 324.
Moreover, the record as a whole contradicts the ALJ’s conclusions about the
effectiveness and aggressiveness of Mr. Spickard’s treatment. In particular, the treatment
records Dr. Wanstrath did not have the chance to review undercut his opinion that Mr.
Spickard’s functioning is not more restricted. These records comprise the only medical evidence
on file for most of the year leading up to the ALJ’s decision, so they are highly probative and are
worth examining in detail.
On August 22, 2013, one month after Dr. Wanstrath issued his opinion, Mr. Spickard’s
treatment notes indicated that he experienced some “minor” visual hallucinations for the first
time since he was unmedicated in 2012. Compare R. 332, with R. 287–310. His psychiatric
nurse practitioner also noted that Mr. Spickard had been having more anxiety since he started
driving his father to appointments. R. 332. Although the nurse previously advised Mr. Spickard
to try decreasing his intake of the antianxiety drug clonazepam, she recommended resuming his
full dosage. R. 331–33.
At the next appointment the nurse wrote that Mr. Spickard had to decrease his intake of
Latuda because he was “more agitated” on a higher dose. R. 330. She also noted that Mr.
Spickard’s mother “[t]hinks meds are keeping [him] fairly stable as long as there isn’t too much
stress in his life.” R. 330.
A month and a half later Mr. Spickard reported feeling “a little more comfortable
driving,” but he had “some severe depression” and his anxiety was “sometimes ‘very bad.’” R.
328. He was now experiencing some auditory hallucinations as well when he felt anxious,
another return of symptoms that he had not experienced since 2012. Compare R. 328, with R.
287–310. He also reported his anxiety worsening after taking his medication every day at 2 p.m.
and he described having nightmares and flashbacks from being in jail, seemingly a symptom of
his PTSD. See R. 328. The nurse increased his clonazepam dosage from twice a day to three
times a day and prescribed prazosin for his nightmares. R. 327.
Mr. Spickard continued to report heightened anxiety in the late afternoon and evening a
month later so the nurse again strengthened his prescription, this time by adding the antianxiety
drug buspirone to avoid increasing his already strong clonazepam prescription. R. 325–26. She
also doubled his prazosin dosage. See id.
At the following appointment Mr. Spickard continued to report nightmares, prompting
the psychiatric nurse practitioner to more than double his prazosin prescription once again. See
R. 323–24. Mr. Spickard found the buspirone ineffective at low doses but he became dizzy at
higher doses, so the nurse discontinued this prescription. See id. Mr. Spickard also reported that
he was still experiencing visual and auditory hallucinations but they were not “intrusive” and he
could tell that they were not real. R. 324.
Six weeks later Mr. Spickard’s nurse noted that despite his medications he “has had more
anxiety and depression.” R. 322. His mother attended the appointment and expressed her view
that Mr. Spickard “has been regressing and not staying steady.” Id. Even the heightened dose of
prazosin had not helped Mr. Spickard’s nightmares and his mother complained that he was
“getting off track” with sleep—staying up late and sleeping in during the day. Id. The nurse
increased his citalopram prescription “to address depression and anxiety” and discontinued
prazosin since it was not effective. R. 321.
The following treatment notes indicated that Mr. Spickard “became more agitated,
anxious and unable to sleep” a week into the increase in citalopram, but he dutifully continued
taking the high dose anyway. R. 319. The nurse instructed Mr. Spickard to wean off the drug
and begin switching over to paroxetine (Paxil) for his depression and anxiety, which he had used
previously and was “[w]illing to try again.” R. 319–20.
In the last notes on file Mr. Spickard’s mother complained that he “is up all night and
sleeps in the day.” R. 317. The nurse explained that Mr. Spickard had developed a bad habit,
and she recommended adding Seroquel XR for “his depression, continued hallucinations and
sleep problems.” R. 317–18. Mr. Spickard refused this drug in the past, but he reluctantly
agreed to try it. R. 317.
These treatment notes directly refute the ALJ’s understanding of the record. Instead of
showing effective, conservative treatment with mild side effects, R. 28–29, the record reflects
symptoms of depression, anxiety, hallucinations, and sleeplessness persisting in spite of
increasingly aggressive treatment. The ALJ overlooks this conclusion by picking through the
record selectively. She summarizes Mr. Spickard’s treatment history in three stages by writing
that his October 2012 treatment notes “show no complaints that would suggest a need for change
in dosage or frequency,” the following records through July 2013 indicate that Mr. Spickard had
“only moderate symptoms” for half a year, and the remaining records from August 2013 to April
2014 include mental status examinations that were “fairly normal” because, among other things,
Mr. Spickard was “neatly groomed,” held “direct eye contact,” and used “normal speech.” R.
28. But between October 2012 and April 2014 Mr. Spickard’s prescription increased twelve
times, see R. 298, 300, 302, 304, 306, 318, 320, 321, 323, 325, 327, 331; his brief period of
“only moderate symptoms” included “‘lots’ of panic and depression,” “[f]eel[ing] so anxious” he
wanted to “[h]it [his] head against a wall,” “crying . . . because he felt so awful,” “panic attacks
daily,” and “[s]leeping 12 hours at night and napping for 2 in [the] day,” followed by “no
improvement in energy or motivation,” R. 299, 301, 303, 307, 309; and, as discussed above,
treatment notes beginning in August 2013 show symptoms relapsing and resisting treatment, see
The ALJ may not pick and choose evidence from medical records in this manner, “using
only those parts that are favorable to a finding of nondisability.” Robinson v. Barnhart, 366 F.3d
1078, 1083 (10th Cir. 2004). Rather, to find support in substantial evidence the ALJ’s discussion
must address the evidence supporting her decision as well as “significantly probative evidence
[she] rejects.” Clifton v. Chater, 79 F.3d 1007, 1010 (10th Cir. 1996). Therefore, on remand the
ALJ should reevaluate whether Dr. Wanstrath’s opinion is truly consistent with the record as a
whole in light of the discussion above. 2 The ALJ should also use this opportunity to consider
medical records from the relevant time period that were not available when she issued her
decision. See R. 386–427.
2. Dr. Rosenblum’s opinion.
On May 23, 2014, ten months after Dr. Wanstrath gave his opinion, Dr. Rosenblum
prepared a report summarizing the results of his examination of Mr. Spickard and his opinion
about Mr. Spickard’s limitations. R. 348–57. In Dr. Rosenblum’s opinion, Mr. Spickard’s
mental health issues severely impair his ability to complete a normal workday without
unreasonable rest periods, maintain attention and concentration for extended periods, get along
with supervisors and coworkers, respond appropriately to changes in the workplace, and carry
out instructions. R. 349. The ALJ afforded Dr. Rosenblum’s opinion only “partial weight” for
two overarching reasons.
First, the ALJ judged Dr. Rosenblum’s opinion to be inconsistent with the record as a
whole. R. 29. She explained that Mr. Spickard’s subjective reports to Dr. Rosenblum “appear
exaggerated” because “progress notes from treating providers do not show such level of
complaints” and these prior treatment records “do not support the GAF score of 40 which the
claimant portrayed during the examination.” R. 29.
Of course, “[t]he regulations contemplate a briefer explanation if the decision is fully favorable and the
opinion in question is of marginal importance to that decision.” Andersen, 319 F. App’x at 719 n.3
(citing SSR 96-2p, 1996 WL 374188, at *5 (July 2, 1996)).
Although the ALJ correctly applied the law in considering the consistency of Dr.
Rosenblum’s opinion with Mr. Spickard’s medical record, she erred in concluding that the
opinion was inconsistent with the record. At the outset, the ALJ’s discussion of the record
misrepresents Mr. Spickard’s treatment history for the reasons described above, tainting her
evaluation of Dr. Rosenblum’s opinion as well. See supra Part A.1.
The specific reasons given for finding Dr. Rosenblum’s opinion inconsistent with the
record do not withstand scrutiny either. Contrary to the ALJ’s conclusion, Dr. Rosenblum’s tests
do appear to reflect a level of complaints similar to the progress notes from Mr. Spickard’s
treatment providers. For example, on an anxiety test Mr. Spickard reported to Dr. Rosenblum
that most or all of the time he “feel[s] more nervous and anxious than usual,” “feel[s] afraid for
no reason at all,” and “get[s] upset easily or feel[s] panicky.” R. 354. While these check-thebox responses were more specific than some of his treatment notes, his psychiatric nurse
practitioner similarly noted that Mr. Spickard had said he “[f]eels so anxious [he] wants to ‘Hit
my head against a wall’” and that he had “panic attacks daily.” R. 299, 301. Likewise, Mr.
Spickard’s depression test indicated that he did not “get real satisfaction out of anything
anymore” and that he had “to push [himself] very hard to do anything,” R. 356, while he told his
regular provider he was sleeping for 14 hours a day because he was “not feeling motivated or
having the energy to do much,” R. 303. Mr. Spickard’s complaints to Dr. Rosenblum thus
appear to be largely consistent with his complaints to his regular treatment provider.
The ALJ’s other reason for finding inconsistency here—that prior treatment records do
not prospectively support Dr. Rosenblum’s finding a GAF score of 40 in May 2014—does not
make sense. Mr. Spickard’s medical records include GAF scores of 35-40, 40, 40-45, 45, 50, 55,
and 60. See, e.g., 219, 281, 294, 302, 338, 368, 377. As discussed above, Mr. Spickard’s most
recent treatment notes observe him “regressing” and document persistent depression, anxiety,
hallucinations, and insomnia despite increasingly aggressive treatment. See R. 317–32.
Although these records did not assign Mr. Spickard a GAF score, that does not mean they
preclude a score on the low end of Mr. Spickard’s historical range. If anything, the changes
detailed in these records indicate that the last GAF score of 60 that Mr. Spickard received in
2013 may have been stale by the time the ALJ issued her decision in mid-2014.
Second, the ALJ gave Dr. Rosenblum’s opinion little weight because it “has an implied
bias as this examination was at the request of the claimant’s representative.” R. 29. But this
logic runs afoul of the Social Security Administration’s regulations. The ALJ cannot rationally
accept “the reports of [a psychologist] employed and paid by the government for the purpose of
defending against a disability claim” when she is not willing to accept the same from a
psychologist employed by a claimant for the purpose of supporting a disability claim. Frey v.
Bowen, 816 F.2d 508, 513 (10th Cir. 1987) (quoting Turner v. Heckler, 754 F.2d 326, 329 (10th
Cir. 1985)). The reason an acceptable medical source offers an opinion thus cannot be
considered a factor “which tend[s] to support or contradict the medical opinion” or else ALJs
would have to systematically discount the opinions of the agency’s medical and psychological
consultants—like Dr. Wanstrath. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(c)(6). And because a claimant bears
the burden of establishing his or her RFC, such a rule would disadvantage all claimants who seek
to provide more evidence of their disabilities, undermining the Social Security Administration’s
nonadversarial decisionmaking process. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.1400(b). This consideration is
therefore prohibited by law.
Additionally, the ALJ’s decision does not indicate that she considered the fact that Dr.
Rosenblum actually examined Mr. Spickard, which would tend to warrant giving more weight to
Dr. Rosenblum’s opinion relative to that of Dr. Wanstrath. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(c)(1); see
also Robinson, 366 F.3d at 1084 (“The opinion of an examining physician is generally entitled to
less weight than that of a treating physician, and the opinion of an agency physician who has
never seen the claimant is entitled to the least weight of all.”); Allison v. Heckler, 711 F.2d 145,
147–48 (10th Cir. 1983) (“The general rule is that the written reports of medical advisors who
have not personally examined the claimant deserve little weight in the overall evaluation of
disability.” (internal quotation marks omitted)).
Last, the decision does not reflect that the ALJ considered that Dr. Rosenblum
“present[ed] relevant evidence” from psychological tests to support his opinion, which would
also warrant giving his opinion more weight. 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(c)(3).
On remand the ALJ should reevaluate whether Dr. Rosenblum’s opinion is consistent
with the record as a whole in light of the discussion above. The ALJ should also make sure to
apply the factors listed in 20 C.F.R. § 416.927(c)—and only those factors—in weighing Dr.
Rosenblum’s opinion, and her decision should reflect that she considered every relevant factor in
calculating the weight she gives this opinion.
B. Subjective Symptom Evaluation.
When assessing a claimant’s subjective complaints, an ALJ must consider the objective
medical evidence that may correlate with these symptoms, opinions from acceptable medical
sources, and other relevant evidence, including: (1) the claimant’s daily activities; (2) the
location, duration, frequency, and intensity of symptoms; (3) precipitating and aggravating
factors; (4) the type, dosage, effectiveness, and side effects of any medication taken; (5)
treatment other than medication; (6) any measures used to relieve symptoms; and (7) any other
factors concerning functional limitations. 20 C.F.R. § 416.929(c). This credibility determination
“does not require a formalistic factor-by-factor recitation of the evidence . . . [s]o long as the ALJ
sets forth the specific evidence [she] relies on in evaluating the claimant’s credibility.” Qualls v.
Apfel, 206 F.3d 1368, 1372 (10th Cir. 2000).
Following these guidelines, the ALJ found Mr. Spickard’s subjective complaints
concerning the intensity, persistence, and limiting effects of his schizoaffective disorder and
PTSD not entirely credible. She based this determination on Mr. Spickard’s activities of daily
living, the effectiveness of medication in treating his symptoms, and Dr. Wanstrath’s and Dr.
Rosenblum’s opinions about his limitations. R. 28–29. But for the reasons provided above, this
explanation does not justify the ALJ’s credibility determination. Specifically, the ALJ’s analysis
of Mr. Spickard’s daily activities, his medical treatment, and the two psychologists’ opinions is
not supported by substantial evidence. See supra Part A. Furthermore, the ALJ failed to
“explain why the specific evidence . . . led [her] to conclude claimant’s subjective complaints
were not credible.” Hardman v. Barnhart, 362 F.3d 676, 679 (10th Cir. 2004) (quoting Kepler v.
Chater, 68 F.3d 387, 391 (10th Cir. 1995)). In other words, “the link between the evidence and
credibility determination is missing.” Kepler, 68 F.3d at 391.
On remand, the ALJ’s subjective symptom evaluation should be “closely and
affirmatively linked” to substantial evidence in the record by correcting the inaccurate
description of Mr. Spickard’s daily activities and medical treatment, properly evaluating the
medical opinions of record, and explicitly connecting the discussion of this evidence to his
For the reasons described above, the Court REVERSES and REMANDS the
Commissioner’s decision denying claimant Ryan M. Spickard’s application for Supplemental
DATED this 20th day of July, 2017.
BY THE COURT:
R. Brooke Jackson
United States District Judge
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