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Crothers v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

September 29, 2017

JILL L. CROTHERS, Plaintiff,




         This matter is before the Court on the parties' Cross Motions for Summary Judgment pertaining to Plaintiff Jill L. Crothers' claim for judicial review of Defendant Commissioner of Social Security's denial of her application for disability insurance benefits. The matter was referred to Magistrate Judge David R. Grand, who issued a Report and Recommendation on August 11, 2017, recommending that the Court deny Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment, and grant the Defendant Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff filed objections to the Report and Recommendation on August 18, 2017, and the Defendant filed a Response to Plaintiff's objections on August 29, 2017.

         Upon review of Plaintiff's objections, the Commissioner's Response, the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation, the medical evidence, and the parties' summary judgment motions, the Court concludes that the ALJ's analysis is flawed in several areas. Specifically, the ALJ failed to properly analyze Plaintiff's fibromyalgia and chronic pancreatitis diagnoses, as well as failed to accept her complaints of pain as credible and failed to follow the treating physician rule without adequate explanation. As such, the Court cannot conclude that substantial evidence supports the ALJ's determination. Therefore, the Court will remand this action to the Commissioner for further proceedings pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).


         Upon review of the record and the Magistrate Judge's recitation of the facts, the Court finds that the Magistrate Judge's fact discussion is sound. As such, the Court will adopt the Magistrate Judge's background discussion in his Report and Recommendation. See Dkt. No. 21 at Pg ID 486-490. The Court will therefore only discuss the facts relevant to its disposition.

         Plaintiff was 45 years old at the time of the alleged disability onset date of June 17, 2013. She has a twelfth grade education and past relevant work experience as a direct care worker. She alleges disability based on right rotator cuff disease, arthritis, fibromyalgia and chronic pancreatitis. At the time she applied for disability benefits, she had been seeing Dr. Louis Schwartz for ten years for chronic pancreatitis and fibromyalgia. In recent years, he also began treating her for complaints of pain in the bilateral shoulders.

         An MRI of Plaintiff's right shoulder showed rotator cuff pathology with a partial thickness tear of the tendon. After conservative treatment of physical therapy and injections, it was recommended that she receive a sub acromial decompression and rotator cuff repair. She had surgery on her right shoulder in July of 2013. However, after the surgery and a round of physical therapy, her shoulder became frozen with markedly limited range of motion, resulting in the need for a manipulation procedure which she had done in March of 2014.

         In 2013, Plaintiff also regularly complained of stomach pain associated with chronic pancreatitis. Laboratory results reveal elevated pancreatic enzymes. Notes from Dr. Schwartz indicate that she frequently has epigastric pain and abdominal tenderness. A CT scan of the abdomen revealed abnormal right renal calculus and an ultrasound revealed non obstructing renal stones.

         Dr. Schwartz completed two medical questionnaires wherein he indicated that he had been treating Plaintiff for ten years for fibromyalgia, chronic pancreatitis, and right shoulder pain with decreased range of motion. He opined that her prognosis was “poor.” He further opined that during a typical day the Plaintiff's pain and other symptoms would “constantly” interfere with the attention and concentration needed to perform even simple work tasks.

         Subsequent to the manipulation procedure, Dr. Schwartz's treatment notes reveal that Plaintiff complained of severe bilateral foot pain from fibromyalgia and chronic pancreatitis. She also complained that she was still experiencing pain in her right shoulder. Dr. Schwartz therefore renewed her pain medicine prescriptions. He further noted that she has trouble standing and walking and that her stomach was markedly distended and bloated, for which he prescribed Zofran to alleviate the symptoms associated with her chronic pancreatitis. Dr. Schwartz referred Plaintiff to Dr. Inocencio Cuesta for fibromyalgia with complaints of pain in her feet, ankles and elbows. Dr. Cuesta noted thirteen out of eighteen positive trigger points for fibromyalgia, as well as diagnosed metatarsalgia of both feet. His notes reflect that Plaintiff complained of pain in her right shoulder and bilateral elbow pain. She further indicated that her foot and ankle pain worsened when walking and that she felt like her “ankles are broken.” Dr. Cuesta's examination notes reveal normal range of motion for the upper and lower extremities.

         At the hearing before the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), Plaintiff testified that she still experienced pain in her right shoulder, and that the pain and swelling in her feet and ankles had developed during the last six months. She testified that she had trouble walking because of the swelling in her feet. She indicated that she had difficulty with fine motor skills as a result of nerve damage in her right shoulder, as well as due to fibromyalgia in her left elbow with pain radiating to her fingers. She indicated that she does chores around the house with the help of her teenage daughters and spouse. She has some difficulty dressing due to the limitations with fine motor skills. She can drive short distances. She testified that she had gained forty to forty-five pounds in the last year due to an inability to move. She has to raise her feet several times per day because of the swelling. She also experiences daily nausea from the chronic pancreatitis and takes a Zofran and rests for an hour to alleviate this symptom. She testified that the nausea symptoms had worsened in recent years. She testified that the medications she took for her conditions caused her to be drowsy.

         The ALJ ultimately concluded that Plaintiff had the severe impairments of degenerative joint disease/rotator cuff disease, degenerative disc disease, fibromyalgia, chronic pancreatitis and chronic pulmonary disease. He further determined that she was unable to perform her past relevant work, but could perform a limited range of light work. Her application for disability benefits was therefore denied. In reaching this conclusion, the ALJ determined that Dr. Schwartz's opinion was entitled to “limited weight” and that Plaintiff's statements concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting effects of her symptoms were not entirely credible.

         III. ...

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