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Emley v. Saul

United States District Court, D. Utah

August 29, 2019

ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security Defendant.


          Paul Kohler United States Magistrate Judge.

         This Social Security disability appeal is before the Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to review the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. Plaintiff Crystal Lynn Emley seeks review of the Administrative Law Judge's (“ALJ”) decision denying her claim for disability insurance benefits, as well as Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act. After review and oral argument, the Court reverses and remands the Commissioner's final decision denying Ms. Emley's claim for disability benefits for further consideration.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Ms. Emley has been diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus (“SLE”) (Tr. 338, 354-355). Throughout the relevant period, Ms. Emley reported persistent fatigue, rash, muscle and joint achiness (Tr. 362, 364, 366, 369, 370, 373, 375, 436, 566, 607). Her rash has been linked to her SLE and significant photosensitivity (Tr. 587). Ms. Emley has been treated with prednisone and infusion medications (Tr. 402, 587). Flare ups continued to be documented by her treating physicians, including chronic pain and weakness in her extremities (Tr. 472, 604, 728, 1048). Her lupus also began to affect her kidneys (Tr. 475). Lower extremity edema has been observed, possibly due to renal issues caused by her SLE (Tr. 469, 497, 536, 574, 592, 633). Testing has shown abnormal liver enzymes (Tr. 514). She has had retinal hemorrhaging related to her SLE (Tr. 622).

         In addition to the myalgias caused by her SLE, Ms. Emley had an MRI of the lumbar spine that showed impingement of the nerve root (Tr. 526). She reports chronic neck and back pain, as well, and has received trigger point injections (Tr. 564, 570, 646, 726, 781). An MRI of the lumbar spine showed she had broad based annular disc bulge at ¶ 4-5 (Tr.813). She had disc material approximately 34mm into the canal at ¶ 5-S1 with encroachment on the right S1 exiting nerve root (Tr. 813). Imaging shows that she has some tendinopathy in her hands, worse on the left than the right (Tr. 1309).

         Ms. Emley has been treated for depression throughout the relevant period (Tr. 491). The record shows multiple adjustments to the claimant's medications in an attempt to stabilize her depression (Tr. 491, 646, 656). Ms. Emley has had two suicide attempts (Tr. 491, 1281, 1398).

         At the hearing, Ms. Emley testified that she was 48 years old (Tr. 42). She is 5'4” tall and weighs 154 pounds (Tr. 42). She does not have a driver's license (Tr. 42-43). She has a GED and a real estate license (Tr. 43). Her last job was selling timeshares (Tr. 44). She sometimes sells clothes on eBay when she is feeling well enough (Tr. 48).

         Ms. Emley has had lupus for nine years (Tr. 45). It causes chronic pain, rashes and hives, achy joints, fevers, and fatigue (Tr. 45). Her fatigue affects her on a daily basis and keeps her from getting things done (Tr. 50). She has infusions for her lupus every four weeks (Tr. 52). After her infusions, she will spend two to three days in bed due to the side-effects (Tr. 52). She gets flare ups of her lupus in response to stress (Tr. 55).

         In his decision, the ALJ found that Ms. Emley had the severe impairments of lupus, fibromyalgia, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, and depressive disorder (Tr. 17). At step three, he found that she did not meet a listing. (Tr. 18). Between steps 3 and 4, the ALJ found that Ms. Emley had the residual functional capacity (“RFC”) to perform light work. Specifically, he found she could lift and/or carry ten pounds frequently and twenty pounds occasionally. She could stand and/or walk for six hours out of an eight-hour workday. She could sit for six hours out of an eight-hour workday. She could occasionally climb ramps and stairs, stoop, and perform fine manipulation bilaterally. She cannot climb ladders, ropes or scaffolds. She must avoid all exposure to working at heights and with dangerous moving machinery. She is limited to simple, repetitive tasks with a specific vocational preparation (“SVP”) level of 2-3. (Tr. 20). At step 4, the ALJ found that Ms. Emley could not perform her past relevant work (Tr. 27). However, he found at step 5 that with the assessed residual functional capacity assessment there was other work that Ms. Emley could perform. (Tr. 28). Therefore, he found that she was not disabled. (Tr. 29).


         On appeal, Ms. Emley argued that: (1) the ALJ erred in his evaluation of whether Ms. Emley's impairments meet the requirements of Listing 14.02; and (2) the ALJ erred in his evaluation of the medical opinion evidence. As discussed below, the Court ultimately finds that the ALJ erred in his evaluation of the opinion of consulting psychologist, Lane Andelin, Psy.D.


         The Court reviews the Commissioner's decision to determine whether substantial evidence in the record as a whole supports the factual findings and whether the correct legal standards were applied. Hendron v. Colvin, 767 F.3d 951, 954 (10th Cir. 2014)(citation omitted). The ALJ's findings “shall be conclusive” if supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); see also Glass v. Shalala, 43 F.3d 1392, 1395 (10th Cir. 1994). Substantial evidence is “more than a mere scintilla [;]” it is “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971)(quotation and citation omitted). When reviewing the record, the Court “may neither reweigh the evidence nor substitute [its] judgment for that of the [ALJ].” Madrid v. Barnhart, 447 F.3d 788, 790 (10th Cir. 2006).

         However, a “failure to apply the correct legal standard or to provide this court with a sufficient basis to determine the appropriated legal principles have been followed is grounds for reversal.” Jensen v. Barnhart, ...

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