United States District Court, D. Utah
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER REMANDING THE
COMMISSIONER'S FINAL DECISION
Kohler United States Magistrate Judge.
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.
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
ARGUMENTS ON APPEAL
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
STANDARD OF REVIEW
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).
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, ...