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Holden v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Utah, Southern Division

January 14, 2019

LINDA HOLDEN, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          Dustin B. Pead United States Magistrate Judge.

         INTRODUCTION [1]

         Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), Plaintiff Linda Holden (“Plaintiff” or “Ms. Holden”) seeks review of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security's (the “Commissioner”) denial of her claim for disability insurance benefits (DIB) and supplement security income (SSI) under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (the “Act”). (ECF No. 3.) Ms. Holden protectively filed applications for DIB and SSI benefits on June 24, 2014, alleging disability beginning on April 1, 2009. (A.R. 200-203, A.R. 204-212.) Her claims were denied initially, upon reconsideration and in an April 25, 2017, opinion issued by Administrative Law Judge Gary Vanderhoof (the “ALJ”). (A.R. 14-31, A.R. 72-73, A.R. 96-97.) The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review (A.R. 1-6), making the ALJ's ruling the final decision for purposes of judicial review. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 422.210(a). Ms. Holden's appeal to this court followed.[2] Oral argument was held on December 18, 2018. (ECF No. 26.)

         After consideration of the parties' briefs, oral argument, the administrative record and relevant legal authorities, for the reasons set forth herein, the court reverses and remands this matter to the ALJ for further proceedings consistent with this ruling.


         Plaintiff was born in 1967, completed one year of college, and worked as an office manager and grocery clerk. (A.R. 227, 234, A.R. 267-75.) She alleges she became too disabled to work full time in April of 2009 due to coronary artery disease, angina, headaches, hypertension, nose bleeds and fibromyalgia. (A.R. 222, 226.) The record contains multiple records showing Ms. Holden had coronary artery disease, previous cardiac events requiring stents and follow-up care, and received primary care from Shivwits Clinic between April 2008 and November 2014. (A.R. 319-52, A.R. 395-421, A.R. 429-521, A.R. 585-697, A.R. 743-786.)

         As relevant here, Plaintiff also received care from treating physician Claude Warner, M.D., (“Dr. Warner”). In May 2014, Dr. Warner diagnosed Ms. Holden with fibromyalgia, along with other impairments and conditions.[3] (A.R. 545-577, A.R. 733-742.) In January 2017, Dr. Warner provided a “Fibromyalgia Treating Physician Data Sheet” (“Assessment”) opining that Plaintiff could stand/walk for no more than 20 minutes at a time for up to 90 minutes of the workday, sit for 3-4 hours of the workday, lift no more than 10 pounds, had temperature restrictions and would have difficulty sustaining full time work. (A.R. 787-793.)

         Two state agency physicians reviewed Plaintiff's medical record in September 2014 and February 2015, and opined that Plaintiff's hypertensive vascular disease and anxiety disorder were severe impairments. (A.R. 78-79, A.R. 105-107.) The state agency physicians acknowledged Ms. Holden's fibromyalgia, but did not find it a severe impairment. (A.R. 78-79, A.R. 105-107.)


         In his April 25, 2017 decision, the ALJ followed the familiar five-step sequential evaluation for assessing disability. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4). At Step 2, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the severe impairments of anxiety disorder, hypertension, and coronary artery disease. At Step 3, the ALJ determined that Ms. Holden did not have an impairment or combination of impairments that met or medically equaled a listing. (A.R. 19-21); see 20 C.F.R., pt. 404, subpt. P, app. 1.

         At Step 4, the ALJ found that Plaintiff had the Residual Functional Capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work[4] with the following limitations: occasionally perform postural activities; stand for 2 to 3 hours total in an 8-hour workday; preclusion from working on ladders, ropes, scaffolds, unprotected heights, or dangerous moving machinery; simple, non-detailed and non-complex work; decision-making with occasional work changes; occasional interactions with co-workers and supervisors but not in enjoined projects; no work requiring a high production quota or fast-paced activity like an assembly line, and limitation to unskilled work that is repetitive in nature with simple, routine tasks and very few variables. (A.R. 21.) Regarding Plaintiff's fibromyalgia, the ALJ found that it was “not a medically determinable impairment because neither of the two sets of criteria for diagnosing fibromyalgia described in section II.A and II.B of SSR 12-2p is met.” (A.R. 27). Alternatively, the ALJ concluded that Plaintiff's fibromyalgia was “stable.” (Id.)

         Based on vocational expert testimony, the ALJ found that Plaintiff could not perform her past relevant work, but could perform other unskilled jobs available in the national economy. (A.R. 28-30.) Representative occupations identified included addresser, document preparation clerk and systems surveillance monitor. (A.R. 29.)

         As a result, under the five-step disability framework, the ALJ concluded that Ms. Holden was “not disabled.” (A.R. 29-30.)

         STANDARD ...

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