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Reveles v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Arizona

January 9, 2018

Stevan Reveles, Plaintiff,
Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.


          David K. Duncan United States Magistrate Judge.

         Stevan Reveles, in his capacity as substitute party, appeals from the Commissioner's denial of Lucile Reveles' claim for Title II disability benefits.[1] (Doc. 1) This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and, with the parties' consent to Magistrate Judge jurisdiction, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). (Doc. 16) Because the Court concludes that the ALJ's decision contains harmful errors, and that further proceedings are not useful or necessary, the Court remands for benefits.

         Factual and Procedural History

         Lucile Reveles first applied for disability benefits in September 2009, alleging an onset date of September 2006. (Tr. 113) At the time of her hearing in April 2011, the administrative record contained her treatment records through February 2010. (Tr. 43, 118) In June 2011, the ALJ issued a decision denying Reveles benefits (“First Decision”). As relevant here, the First Decision concluded that Reveles' fibromyalgia, tendonitis of the knees, insulin dependent diabetes, asthma, and obesity were severe but that she was capable of performing less than the full range of light work. (Tr. 115-16) The First Decision found that Reveles had been treated for “possible sarcoidosis” and categorized it as nonsevere. (Tr. 116)

         In 2012, Reveles again filed Title II and Title XVI applications with an alleged onset date of October 1, 2011 (“Second Application”).[2] (Tr. 21, 102, 395-408, 421) To obtain benefits from her Second Application, Reveles had to rebut a presumption of continuing non-disability and to establish “changed circumstances” pursuant to Chavez v. Bowen, 844 F.2d 691 (9th Cir. 1988), and the Commissioner's Acquiescence Ruling 97-4(9). Moreover, because Reveles' Title II benefits ended on December 31, 2011, her Title II benefits depended on her showing that she was disabled between October 1 and December 31, 2011 (“Relevant Period”). (Tr. 23, 102, 421)

         Lucile Reveles died on May 26, 2015. Her Certificate of Death listed her immediate cause of death as encephalopathy and listed secondary causes as respiratory failure, sepsis, and diabetes. (Tr. 416) As relevant here, her death extinguished her Title XVI claim and left only her Title II claim to be pursued by her son's father, Stevan Reveles.

         Medical Records from the Relevant Period.

         During the Relevant Period, Reveles was hospitalized twice. First, Reveles was admitted at Banner Thunderbird Medical Center on September 29, 2011. In other words, she was hospitalized at the start of the Relevant Period. (Tr. 10222-247, 10592-670) When she was discharged on October 2, 2011, her primary diagnoses were listed as “(1) abdominal pain; (2) history of sarcoidosis, diabetes mellitus, chronic pain; (3) narcotic dependency. (Tr. 10225)

         She was again admitted at Banner Thunderbird Medical Center on October 28, 2011. (Tr. 10450-474) She was discharged on November 2, 2011, and her primary diagnoses were “(1) shortness of breath, multifactorial, likely secondary to a combination of pulmonary hypertension and sarcoid [and] (2) chest pain, atypical” and her secondary diagnoses were “(1) sarcoid, history of; (2) diabetes mellitus, poorly controlled, exacerbated by steroids; (3) anemia; (4) recurrent fevers of unclear etiology; (5) chronic back pain; (6) asthma; (7) migraine headaches.” (Tr. 10452).

         Reveles was an established patient of Shashi J. Goel, M.D., before the Relevant Period. Between and after her Relevant Period hospitalizations, Reveles had six appointments for on-going pain and follow-up with Dr. Goel. (Tr. 2309-15) In February 2015, Dr. Goel wrote a letter that stated, “Lucile was under my care for many years. She had multiple medical problems. She was totally disabled and unable to work during 2010 and 2011.” (Tr. 10474) In January 2016, Dr. Goel wrote a letter that stated:

Lucile Reveles was my patient for several years. She has [sic] multiple medical diagnoses including sarcoidosis, diabetes mellitus with diabetic neuropathy, renal insufficiency and chronic pain. During the time I treated her, she was in a lot of pain. She required numerous hospitalizations due to her medical conditions.
Due to her many medical problems and constant hospitalizations, I believe that she was totally disabled and not able to work the entire time she was under my care.

(Tr. 10874)

         Reveles received regular treatment with Valley Arthritis Care. (Tr. 1113-65) During the Relevant Period, Reveles had one appointment where she was assessed with hypertension; respiratory disorder sarcoidosis; diabetes mellitus; longstanding inflammatory arthropathy, suspected sarcoid arthropathy; and osteoarthritis. (Tr. 1129-30)

         During the Relevant Period, Reveles saw her pain management provider monthly and all three medical records indicate a ...

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