Mead v. Colvin
ORDER: Plaintiff's Motion for Order Reversing the Decision of the Commissioner or In the Alternative Motion for Remand for a Hearing (Doc. No. 13 ) is hereby GRANTED and Defendant's Motion for an Order Affirming the Decision of the Commis sioner (Doc. No. 18 ) is hereby DENIED for the reasons set forth in the attached document. This case is hereby REMANDED to the Commissioner for rehearing consistent with this order. The Clerk shall close this case. Signed by Judge Alvin W. Thompson on 3/27/17. (Mata, E.)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF CONNECTICUT
CAROLYN W. COLVIN,
ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL
: Civil No. 3:15CV1331 (AWT)
ORDER REMANDING CASE
For the reasons set forth below, the decision of the
Commissioner is reversed and this case is remanded for
additional proceedings consistent with this order.
The court’s function when reviewing a denial of disability
benefits is first to ascertain whether the Commissioner applied
the correct legal principles in reaching a conclusion, and then
whether the decision is supported by substantial evidence.
Johnson v. Bowen, 817 F.2d 983, 985 (2d Cir. 1987).
legal error, this court may not set aside the decision of the
Commissioner if it is supported by substantial evidence.
Berry v. Schweiker, 675 F.2d 464, 467 (2d Cir. 1982).
The plaintiff contends, inter alia, that given the nature
of an autoimmune illness like systemic lupus erythematosus
(“Lupus”), the ALJ erred, at a minimum, by dismissing Lupus
symptoms as intermittent without evaluating how the symptoms
affect functional limitations.
The court agrees that the ALJ’s
opinion does not reflect that he or she properly addressed the
fact that intermittent symptoms are characteristic of Lupus.
In Green-Younger v. Barnhart, 335 F.3d 99 (2d Cir. 2003),
where the impairment at issue was fibromyalgia, the court
recognized the need for remand when an ALJ appears to have
misunderstood the nature of the plaintiff’s condition.
the court concluded that the decision was “based on an erroneous
legal standard and . . . not supported by substantial evidence,”
id. at 109, because the ALJ “effectively required ‘objective’
evidence for a disease that eludes such measurement.”
The court observed that “a growing number of courts, . . .
have recognized that fibromyalgia is a disabling impairment and
that ‘there are no objective tests which can conclusively
confirm the disease.’ . . . Yet each of the AJL’s determinations
turned on a perceived lack of objective evidence.”
in Herrick v. Colvin, No. 3:14-cv-01426 (SRU) (Recommended
Ruling Jan. 4, 2016), another case involving fibromyalgia, the
The ALJ’s analysis, which centers on Plaintiff’s subjective
complaints of pain as not supported by objective medical
fibromyalgia resulted in Plaintiff’s symptoms fluctuating,
and whether there were any resulting functional limitations
stemming from that fluctuation. As a result, the Court
cannot say that substantial evidence supports the RFC
finding because the ALJ did not explain how Plaintiff’s
symptoms – on their worst days – would be addressed by the
Id. at 7-8.
Lupus was the condition at issue in Johnson v. Astrue, 628
F.3d 991 (8th Cir. 2011).
There the court observed:
SLE causes a person's immune system to attack and injure
the body's own organs and tissues. Its cause is unknown,
and diagnosis can be difficult. Symptoms vary greatly and
may include: joint pain including arthritis, skin rashes,
coughing and shortness of breath, fever, fatigue, weight
loss, nausea and vomiting, headaches and confused thinking,
kidney malfunction, and pericarditis (inflammation of the
tissue surrounding the heart). “Almost every system of the
body can be affected.”
Id. at 993.
The court took note of the fact that “[t]he
severity of lupus fluctuates over time, with ‘periods with mild
or no symptoms, followed by a flare [during which] symptoms
increase in severity and new organ systems may become
affected.’” Id. (citing 4 The Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine
3616–17 (3d ed. 2006)).
In this case, the ALJ concluded that the plaintiff’s Lupus
was a severe impairment and found that the plaintiff’s medically
determinable impairments could reasonably be expected to cause
the symptoms testified to by the claimant.
The ALJ’s opinion
reflects that Andre Diaz, M.D. had diagnosed the plaintiff with
When discussing Listing 14.02, the ALJ noted that the
plaintiff “often reports dramatic symptoms, but physical
examinations were less than impressive and revealed no more than
mild clinical signs. . . .”
residual functional capacity, the ALJ noted that, at the
hearing, the plaintiff testified that she experiences weekly
flare-ups and her symptoms included chronic pain, inflammation,
fever, and infections.
The ALJ concluded with respect to Lupus
that the plaintiff’s symptoms occurred “intermittently”:
Regarding the claimant’s systemic lupus erythematosus, the
claimant’s symptoms occur intermittently, and though the
claimant often reports dramatic symptoms, clinical signs
were less impressive. For instance, treatment records from
August, 2012 through October, 2012, showed that the
claimant reported joint pain, and generalized weakness, but
physical examination was unremarkable except for tenderness
to palpation over the trapezius muscles.
Yet on other occasions, the claimant reported no joint pain
or other musculoskeletal abnormalities.”
Although the ALJ acknowledged that the plaintiff’s symptoms
with respect to Lupus occurred intermittently, instead of
considering that fact as something to be expected when reviewing
a claim involving Lupus and taking that factor into account as
part of the analysis, the ALJ concluded that the fact that the
plaintiff’s symptoms occurred intermittently undermined the
credibility of the plaintiff’s reports about her symptoms.
does it appear that the ALJ’s analysis took into account the
fact that because the cause of Lupus is unknown and diagnosis
can be difficult, symptoms vary greatly.
Moreover, the extent
to which the ALJ did not credit the claimant’s testimony because
her claimed symptoms were greater than the ALJ expected in light
of the objective, clinical evidence and treatment notes is
For instance, the court cannot determine whether the
ALJ found credible the claimant’s testimony that “she has good
days and bad days” and that “one to three days per week she
cannot get out of bed”. (Tr. 24).
As a consequence, the ALJ’s analysis fails, at a minimum,
to address whether the plaintiff’s Lupus resulted in her
symptoms occurring intermittently and whether there were any
functional limitations resulting from the fact the plaintiff’s
symptoms were intermittent.
Therefore, the court cannot
conclude that substantial evidence supports the RFC finding
because it does not explain how the assessed limitations address
the fact that the plaintiff has periodic flare-ups as a result
Finally, the court notes that failure of the ALJ’s opinion
to reflect an understanding of the nature of the plaintiff’s
Lupus raises substantial questions with respect to the weight
given by the ALJ to the non-examining and examining medical
(See Tr. at 29-31).
For the reasons set forth above, Plaintiff’s Motion for
Order Reversing the Decision of the Commissioner or In the
Alternative Motion for Remand for a Hearing (Doc. No. 13) is
hereby GRANTED, and Defendant’s Motion for an Order Affirming
the Decision of the Commissioner (Doc. No. ) is hereby
This case is hereby REMANDED to the Commissioner for
rehearing consistent with this ruling.
The Clerk shall close this case.
It is so ordered.
Dated this 27th day of March 2017, at Hartford,
Alvin W. Thompson
United States District Judge
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?