Court Opinions: 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion for April 21

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals

Editor’s Note: Law Week Colorado edits court opinion summaries for style and, when necessary, length.

Allred v. Commissioner, SSA

Randa Allred worked as a receptionist for several years. Then in 2012, when she was roughly 30 years old, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She reported during manic episodes, she quit jobs, ran away from home, spent thousands of dollars and engaged in risky, sometimes criminal behavior. Between 2013 and 2017, she had several psychiatric hospitalizations. By the time she ended up in a hospital, she had often stopped taking prescribed medications. 

The record contained conflicting evidence about the relationship between her manic episodes and her medication noncompliance. Some evidence indicated her mania made her suspicious of medication, suggesting the mania came first and caused the medication noncompliance. Other evidence indicated she suffers from mania only when she doesn’t have medication, suggesting that medication noncompliance came first and caused the mania. 

Allred applied for disability insurance benefits and had a hearing before an administrative law judge in 2019. Although she hadn’t experienced a manic episode since 2017, she feared she couldn’t maintain with the stress of employment. The ALJ found that “the biggest predictor for recurrence of her mania is non-compliance with treatment” noting her past hospitalizations occurred when she stopped taking prescribed medication and she controlled her mania since 2017 by taking medication. 

The ALJ found Allred had the residual functional capacity to understand, remember and carry out simple instructions, work-related judgment and decisions, to have occasional superficial contact with the public and to have occasional contact with coworkers and supervisors. These limitations, the ALJ found, prevented Allred from performing her past jobs but allowed her to participate in other ones that exist in large quantities. The ALJ found her not disabled. 

The Appeals Council denied Allred’s request for a review of the ALJ’s decision, making it the final decision. Allred sought judicial review and the district court affirmed. 

Allred raised three issues on appeal: the ALJ erred in evaluating the evidence, the ALJ should’ve applied the Social Security Ruling 18-3p and even if the ALJ didn’t need to apply SSR 18-3p, he still needed to address her failure to comply with treatment using the factors set out in Frey v. Bowen. 

A 10th Circuit Court of Appeals panel out of Salt Lake City, Utah, rejected her first two arguments but concluded the third argument warranted a remand. The 10th Circuit reversed and remanded the case, stating the ALJ should’ve considered possible reasons why Allred failed to take her medication.

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