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Emmendorfer v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

September 28, 2017




         Plaintiff Judy Ann Emmendorfer ("Plaintiff) brings this action under 42 U.S.C. §405(g), challenging a final decision of Defendant Commissioner ("Defendant") denying her application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act. For the reasons discussed below, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [Docket # 14] is DENIED and Plaintiff s Motion for Summary Judgment [Docket # 12] is GRANTED to the extent that the case shall be remanded to the administrative level for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.


         On October 1, 2012, Plaintiff filed an application for DIB alleging disability as of May 1, 2011 (Tr. 208-209). After the initial denial of the claim, Plaintiff requested an administrative hearing, held on November 5, 2013 before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Paul W. Jones (Tr. 52). On January 3, 2014, ALJ Jones determined that Plaintiff was not disabled (Tr. 97-111). On March 3, 2015, the Appeals Council vacated the January 3, 2014 decision, remanding the case to the ALJ on the basis that the ALJ did not explain his reasons for rejecting a treating physician's opinion that Plaintiff was limited to occasional manipulative activity (Tr. 112).

         On June 10, 2015, ALJ Jones conducted a second hearing (Tr. 33). Plaintiff, represented by counsel, testified, as did Vocational Expert Georgette Gunther (Tr. 37-51). On June 25, 2015, ALJ Jones issued a partially favorable decision, finding that due to Plaintiffs limitation to exertionally light work, she was disabled as of December 29, 2014 due to a change in Plaintiff's age category to "advanced age" (Tr. 19-28); Medical-Vocational Rule 202.06. On June 9, 2016, the Appeals Council denied review (Tr. 1-3). Plaintiff filed for judicial review of the final decision in this Court on August 3, 2016. Docket #1.


         Plaintiff, born December 30, 1959, was 55 when ALJ Jones issued his decision (Tr. 28, 208). She completed 12th grade and worked as a cashier at a party store (Tr. 246). She alleges disability resulting from rheumatoid arthritis, a back injury, depression, insomnia, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome ("CTS"), and asthma (Tr. 245).

         A. PlaintifPs Testimony

         Plaintiff offered the following testimony:

         1. November 5, 2013

         She was married and lived in a single-family home with her husband (Tr. 55). Following her husband's retirement, they bought a farm approximately 14 miles from their home which her husband ran for profit (Tr. 57). At their own home, they had 20 pigs, two dogs, one cat, and around 50 chickens at the farm but she did not help her husband take of them (Tr. 68). Her only job was collecting eggs (Tr. 68).

         For the past two years, Plaintiff was unable to help her husband with the farming, noting that she used to be able to lift up a wagon tailgate and drive a truck (Tr. 57). Plaintiff worked 12 hours a week at a party store as a cashier (Tr. 58). She received steroid injections for the upper extremity conditions (Tr. 70). Her work in a previous cashiering position required her to lift up to 20 pounds (Tr. 63). She also worked for 12 months in 2002 babysitting her grandchild (Tr. 65). She was unable to work more hours due to rheumatoid arthritis, but had recently begun watching her grandchildren again for approximately 19 hours a week (Tr. 58, 68). She was able to read, write, and perform calculations (Tr. 60). She stood 5' 8" and weighed 260 pounds (Tr. 61).

         Plaintiff smoked around five cigarettes a day (Tr. 72). She had received treatment from the same physician for the past 33 years (Tr. 73). She was able to climb a flight of stairs two to three times a day (Tr. 74). She was unable to kneel (Tr. 75). She experienced problems peeling potatoes due to arthritis of the hands (Tr. 75). She required a 10-minute rest after experiencing locked finger joints (Tr. 77). Although she held a job as a cashier, she was required to leave her shift two hours early at least twice a month due to hand problems (Tr. 77). She experienced constant foot pain and her most comfortable position was lying flat on her back (Tr. 77). Due to fatigue, she reclined two or three times a day for at least half an hour (Tr. 78). She experienced mild relief from pain medication (Tr. 78). Steroid injections improved her condition for around one week (Tr. 78). She was capable of lifting up to 25 pounds (Tr. 78). Her husband did 75 percent of the work at the times she was babysitting her grandchildren (Tr. 79). On a "bad" day, Plaintiff stayed in her room all day, adding that she experienced such days around four times a month (Tr. 80).

         2. June 10, 2015

         Plaintiff had only worked two days since the previous hearing due to gall bladder surgery (Tr. 37-38). Her hand and wrist condition had worsened (Tr. 46). She experienced problems "grabbing" items and buttoning clothes and was unable to lift more than 10 pounds (Tr. 47, 49). She also experienced increased foot, elbow, and knee pain (Tr. 47). In addition to the gall bladder problems, she had experienced a kidney infection (Tr. 48).

         B. Medical Evidence

         1. Records Related to PlaintifPs Treatment

         March, 2011 records by Larry G. Alton, D.O. state that Plaintiff continued to smoke (Tr. 434). Plaintiff reported leg swelling (Tr. 384). A lower extremity study showed mild bilateral obstructive atherosclerosis (Tr. 433). A May, 2011 chest x-ray was unremarkable (Tr. 406). In August, 2011, Dr. Alton prescribed a nebulizer machine for asthma (Tr. 420). October, 2011 treating records note a diagnosis of generalized osteoarthritis centered in the bilateral feet (Tr. 319). Dianne Trudell, M.D. noted heel spurs and "a borderline positive rheumatoid factor" (Tr. 319). Plaintiff reported no improvement from the use of Methotrexate (Tr. 320). The same month, Dr. Alton determined that Plaintiff required hearing aids (Tr. 417). Dr. Alton's notes from the following month note Plaintiff's report of ongoing back pain (Tr. 368).

         January, 2012 orthopedic records by Susan Mosier-LaClair, M.D. note Plaintiffs report of year-long bilateral foot pain (Tr. 286-289). Dr. Mosier-LaClair noted full strength and Plaintiffs report that arthritis of the big toes did not bother her (Tr. 286). Plaintiff reported joint tenderness in both feet at the second through fifth toe joints (Metatarsalgia) (Tr. 286). Imaging studies showed bilateral mid-foot arthritis (Tr. 287). Dr. Mosier-LaClair recommended metatarsal pads (Tr. 287). Dr. Alton's records from the same month state that Plaintiff requested a steroid injection for numbness of the right leg and face (Tr. 365). The following month, Plaintiff sought emergency treatment for chest pain and shortness of breath (Tr. 291). Testing was negative for myocardial infarction (Tr. 291). Plaintiff was advised to lose weight, stop smoking, and obtain a sleep apnea evaluation (Tr. 291, 363). EMG studies of the lower extremities from the same month showed radiculopathy with ongoing moderate enervation (Tr. 327, 460). The same month, Plaintiff was prescribed Vicodin (Tr. 410). A March, 2012 MRI of the lumbar spine showed a broad-based hernia at ¶ 5 with nerve root compression (Tr. 332, 464).

         In April, 2012, neurosurgeon Lisa Guyot, M.D. noted Plaintiff s report of level "six" out of "ten" lower back pain (Tr. 342, 451). Dr. Guyot also noted a history of asthma (Tr. 343). Plaintiff demonstrated difficulty with tandem gait and a decreased range of lumbar and cervical spine motion (Tr. 343-344, 452-453). Dr. Guyot's May, 2012 records state that Plaintiff declined a recommendation for surgery and opted for epidural steroid injections instead (Tr. 339, 448). Dr. Alton's August, 2012 records state that Plaintiff requested an emergency arthritis shot (Tr. 358). The following month, she reported that she could "hardly walk" due to foot pain (Tr. 355).

         February, 2013 records note that Plaintiff had been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthris 25 years earlier (Tr. 444). April, 2013 treating notes state that lab work was positive for rheumatoid arthritis (Tr. 443). Plaintiff exhibited swollen hands (Tr. 443). A May, 2013 MRI of the right hip showed a "probable" paralabral cyst (Tr. 479). Dr. Alton's notes from the following month state that Plaintiff wanted to continue prednisone ...

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