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Welty v. Colvin

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

September 25, 2013

JENNIFER M. WELTY, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

JANICE M. STEWART, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff, Jennifer Welty ("Welty"), seeks judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") denying her applications for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act. This court has jurisdiction under 42 USC § 405(g) and § 1383(c), and the parties have consented to adjudication by a Magistrate Judge. Because the Commissioner's decision is not supported by substantial evidence, it is reversed and remanded for an award of benefits.

ADMINISTRATIVE HISTORY

Welty filed applications for DIB and SSI in November 2008 alleging a disability commencing October 20, 2008, due to a car accident in October 2007 which aggravated her existing back pain, arthritis, and numbness. Tr. 155-65, 174.[2] After the Commissioner denied Welty's applications initially and upon reconsideration, she requested a hearing. Tr. 107-24, 128-29. That hearing was held on January 7, 2011, before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Michael Gilbert. Tr. 45-102. On April 29, 2011, the ALJ issued a decision finding Welty not disabled. Tr. 15-30. The Appeals Council denied Welty's subsequent request for review on June 28, 2012, making the ALJ's decision the final Agency decision. Tr. 1-5. Welty now seeks judicial review.

BACKGROUND

Born in 1970, Welty was 40 years old at the time of the hearing. Tr. 66. She completed the ninth grade, but did not finish high school or attain a GED. Tr. 68-69. She has past work experience as a manicurist and a hair stylist. Tr. 82, 90, 195-202.

EVIDENCE

I. Medical Evidence

According to the medical records, Paul Matz, M.D., the primary care provider, has treated Welty for back pain since at least October 30, 2006, when he diagnosed unchanged neck pain, unchanged arthritis, and improved sciatica. Tr. 469-70. In March 2007, Welty reported that the pain in her neck and lower back were getting worse. Tr. 462. The next month she reported numbness in her left middle finger and constant pain in her back. Tr. 459. Dr. Matz diagnosed this new problem as paresthesia (abnormal skin sensation) (Tr. 260) and referred her to Peter Grant, M.D., for an electrodiagnostic evaluation. Tr. 261.

When examining Welty in May 2007, Dr. Grant noted a tenderness to palpation in the cervical paraspinal, trapezius, and rhomboid muscles bilaterally with muscular rigidity and some myofascial nodules. Tr. 261-62. EMG and nerve conduction studies of her neck and arms were normal. Id. Dr. Grant diagnosed chronic muscular and myofascial neck, shoulder, periscapular, and upper extremity pain syndrome with upper extremity paresthesias. Id.

In July 2007 Welty reported to Dr. Matz that her shoulder and neck pain were getting worse. Tr. 456. Dr. Matz also noted that Welty had a depressed mood. Tr. 457. In August 2007, Dr. Matz diagnosed her arthritis as deteriorated. Tr. 453. He opined that Welty was "not medically stable to do her current job" and "would benefit from vocational rehabilitation." Tr. 514. In September 2007, Dr. Matz diagnosed polyneuropathy and administered Toradol for pain. Tr. 431, 439. On a form that appears to be dated October 5, 2007, Dr. Matz stated that Welty had cervical and lumbar arthritis of moderate severity with chronic neck and back pain and could not sit for prolonged periods. Tr. 512-13.

In mid-October 2007 after a motor vehicle accident, Welty reported neck pain and numbness in both hands to Dr. Welty. Tr. 423. A cervical MRI performed in December 2007 revealed degenerative disc narrowing with disc protrusion making contact with Welty's spinal cord. Tr. 412-13. In April 2008, Dr. Matz diagnosed sciatica and an anxiety disorder. Tr. 395.

In June 2008, Dr. Matz referred Welty to a neurologist for numbness in her left toe, burning sensations in her left foot, and drooping left eyelid. Tr. 392. In August 2008, Welty complained of right middle finger pain, redness, swelling, and tingling that Dr. Matz diagnosed as questionable Raynaud's Syndrome. Tr. 385-89. A cervical MRI in September 2008 revealed disc herniation with minor flattening of Welty's spinal cord. Tr. 312-13. As a result, Dr. Matz diagnosed right cervical radiculopathy. Tr. 381.

On a referral from Dr. Matz, Larry J. Kaukonen, M.D., a neurosurgeon, examined Welty in January 2009. Tr. 301-03. Finding no evidence of cord compression or radiculopathy and almost no change on MRIs over the last two years, he diagnosed "chronic muscle pain in her neck and shoulders secondary to overuse and exacerbated by her motor vehicle accident" and did not recommend surgery. Tr. 303.

In 2009, Welty continued to report pain in her back, foot, and elbow, as well as finger numbness. Tr. 572, 588, 609. Based on his examinations, laboratory results and a nerve conduction test, Dr. Matz diagnosed Raynaud's Syndrome (vasospastic disorder causing discoloration of the fingers and toes) in May 2009 (Tr. 610), cervical radiculopathy on the right in June 2009 (Tr. 596), and polyarticular arthritis in August and September 2009. Tr. 577-78, 589.

In September 2009, Welty returned to Dr. Grant. Tr. 502. Electrodiagnostic testing showed a moderate and chronic right ulnar neuropathy. Tr. 503. Dr. Grant opined that the greater part of her clinical symptoms was caused by chronic myofascial pain in the left neck, shoulder, periscapular, and upper extremity with associated upper extremity paresthesias. Tr. 504. He suggested wearing a protective pad, physical therapy, and further intervention. Id. Later that month, an ANA test (antinuclear antibodies) was positive (indicating the possible presence of an autoimmune disease). Tr. 578.

Then in October 2009 after noting multiple positive trigger points, Dr. Matz also diagnosed fibromyalgia and depression for which he prescribed Celexa. Tr. 570.

In November 2009, Welty was examined by Paul Sternenberg, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon. Tr. 540. He diagnosed a right ulnar nerve compression of the elbow and right lateral epicondylitis and recommended some conservative measures. Tr. 541. Absent improvement in her ulnar nerve symptoms, he felt she would be a candidate for surgery. Id.

Also in November 2009, David Walker, M.D., a neurosurgeon, examined Welty at the request of Dr. Matz. Tr. 517. He diagnosed chronic axial neck pain and possible right shoulder and elbow pathology with possible ulnar nerve palsy in the right elbow. Tr. 520. He wrote that only a few cases of axial neck pain can be successfully treated with surgery. Id. A few days later, Dr. Walker advised Welty that her MRI showed no evidence of neural impingement of the nerve roots or spinal canal. Tr. 516. He recommended home stretching and strengthening ...


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