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Slade v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Utah

March 1, 2017

KELLI B. SLADE, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          Evelyn J. Furse United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff Kelli B. Slade (“Ms. Slade”) appeals the Commissioner of Social Security's decision denying her claim for Disability Insurance Benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act (the Act), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433, as well as Supplemental Security Income, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1383f. (ECF No. 3.) Having considered the parties' briefs, the administrative record, the arguments of counsel, and the relevant law, the Court[1] REMANDS the Commissioner's decision for further consideration.


         Ms. Slade filed an application for Disability and Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”), as well as, Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) on April 24, 2012, alleging disability beginning March 25, 2011. (A.R. 155-160, 161-67.) The Social Security Administration denied Ms. Slade's claims initially on July 26, 2012, and again upon reconsideration on November 29, 2012. (A.R. 59, 60, 81, 82.) Thereafter, Ms. Slade timely requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on April 17, 2013. (A.R. 122-23.)

         An ALJ held a hearing on March 11, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (A.R. 41-58.) The ALJ found Ms. Slade not disabled on May 28, 2014. (A.R. 22-40.) The Appeals Council denied Ms. Slade's request for review on November 16, 2015. (A.R. 1-6.) This Appeals Council denial made the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner.

         Ms. Slade brought this action to appeal the Commissioner's decision pursuant to 24 U.S.C. § 405(g), which provides for judicial review of the defendant's final decision.

         A. Factual History

         An automobile accident at age twelve injured Ms. Slade, resulting in chronic back pain. (A.R. 282, 339, 458.) This pain worsened in 2005 making work more difficult. (A.R. 458.) She began receiving pain medication and injections for the pain. (A.R. 458.) In March 2011, Ms. Slade received a cervical spine steroid injection that caused a cervical spine hematoma. (A.R. 278, 282.) An MRI of her spine showed that the hematoma caused cervical spinal cord compression. (A.R. 285, 307.) Eventually Ms. Slade underwent a C6-C7 laminectomy and removal of the hematoma to alleviate the pain. (A.R. 287.) An MRI after the surgery showed post-surgical changes at ¶ 6-T1 and small amounts of fluid within the postsurgical space. (A.R. 365.) Ms. Slade continued to complain of neck pain, upper back pain, and pain in her upper extremities. (A.R. 387.) Physical examinations showed decreased range of motion in the cervical spine and decreased reflexes in both the left and right triceps and biceps. (A.R. 390.) In October 2012, the record reflects that Ms. Slade had difficulty using a knife and fork due to pain in her upper extremities. (A.R. 458.) She had decreased range of motion in her neck. (A.R. 462.) She had reduced motor strength, decreased sensation, and decrease reflexes in her upper extremities. (A.R. 462, 463.) A Romberg test showed some instability. (A.R. 462.)

         Ms. Slade also suffered from headaches since the hematoma. She was diagnosed with chemical meningitis, a severe headache caused by neurosurgical procedures. (A.R. 314-320.) Ms. Slade consistently complained of headaches throughout the record. (A.R. 399, 481, 515.)

         In February 2014, Dr. Rox Burkett, reviewed Ms. Slade's entire file and submitted a report and a residual functional capacity assessment. (A.R. 532-38.) Dr. Burkett noted that Ms. Slade had severe degenerative disc disease in her cervical spine confirmed by multiple doctors including specialists. (A.R. 536-37.) Dr. Burkett noted that even the DDS examiner stated Ms. Slade had credible neck pain and limited strength and range of motion but did not reflect this finding in his residual functional capacity. (A.R. 537.)

         Dr. Burkett stated that Ms. Slade had the diagnoses of advanced degenerative disease of the C-spine with chronic pain and weakness, as well as, migraine headaches. (A.R. 532.) He stated she has significant sustainable weakness in her upper extremities. (A.R. 532.)

         B. Hearing Testimony

         At the hearing, Ms. Slade testified she does not drive because she has difficulty turning her head and keeping her foot on the accelerator. (A.R. 44.) Ms. Slade stated that her pain runs along her entire spine. (A.R. 46.) The pain radiates into her shoulders, and her fingertips are tingly and painful. (A.R. 46.) She has difficulty gripping things. (A.R. 46.) She has headaches. (A.R. 46.) Ms. Slade's mother helps with most of the daily activities including helping her dress and shower. (A.R. 47.) Ms. Slade testified that at least once a week, the headaches are bad enough that she cannot perform any activities. (A.R. 50.)

         C. ...

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