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Stackhouse v. Barnhart

May 22, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: James Robertson United States District Judge


Plaintiff Murleana Stackhouse seeks judicial review and reversal of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration denying her Supplemental Security Income disability benefits. Before the court are plaintiff's motion for summary judgment [7], and defendant's motion for a judgment of affirmance [10]. For the reasons discussed below, the defendant's motion will be denied; the plaintiff's motion will be granted.

1. Background

A. Fibromyalgia

According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, fibromyalgia syndrome is a "common and chronic disorder characterized by widespread muscle pain, fatigue, and multiple tender points." [7-2] at 4.*fn1 Fibromyalgia may also be characterized by sleep disturbance, morning stiffness, headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, numbness or tingling of the extremities, and cognitive and memory problems. Id. at 5.

Fibromyalgia is not a disease, but rather a syndrome that is marked by signs and symptoms. It cannot be diagnosed using objective methods, but a physician may diagnose fibromyalgia if a patient experiences pain with the application of four kilograms of pressure upon at least 11 of 18 paired tender points (i.e. 11 of 36) on the body that have been identified by the American College of Rheumatology. [7-2] at 5 (citing "Questions and Answers about Fibromyalgia").

There are no medications available to treat fibromyalgia, but doctors prescribe pain-killers, anti-inflammatory medication, and anti-depressants to treat its symptoms. One drug used to treat the pain aspect of fibromyalgia is Oxycontin, a potent opioid-based Schedule II drug for moderate to severe pain. [7-2] at 6.*fn2 Used alone, it can cause tiredness; when combined with other pain relievers or antihistamines, it can cause severe or "dangerous" drowsiness. [7-2] at 6.*fn3

B. Plaintiff's Relevant Medical History

Ms. Stackhouse was born in 1959; at the time of her November 2003 hearing, she was 44 years old. [10] at 5. She suffers from fibromyalgia, lumbar and cervical disc disease, lumbar and cervical disc disease radiculopathy, right shoulder disorder, bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome and bronchial asthma. [7-2] at 4.

Ms. Stackhouse first reported significant pain in 1997, when she was admitted to the hospital with chest pains. [10] at 6. She was diagnosed with an upper respiratory infection and "atypical chest pain." Id. at 6. After a serious fall in February 1998, she began experiencing constant pain. Dkt. #5 at 452. In September 1998, she sought treatment for neck pain that radiated into the right arm. [10] at 6. An MRI taken at the time was normal, as were the plaintiff's x-rays, though the doctor noted there were some mild spinal abnormalities. Id.

In February 1999, Ms. Stackhouse again reported to the local hospital that she was experiencing neck pain that radiated into her right arm. She indicated that she had been in pain for eight months. [10] at 6. EMG testing again indicated some mild abnormalities. Over the next few months, plaintiff underwent therapy, but she had essentially the same symptoms and pain. Id. at 7.

In April 1999, plaintiff began seeing Dr. Hampton J. Jackson. He ordered lab testing in April 1999 that ruled out rheumatoid arthritis and some other possible causes for Ms. Stackhouse's pain. A myelogram with CT scan was also normal. [10] at 8. However, Dr. Jackson did find that Ms. Stackhouse had significant trigger points for her pain in her upper trapezius muscle, and administered a paraspinal block injection to help alleviate pain. Id.

By January 2000, plaintiff was taking Oxycontin regularly for pain. [10] at 8. In February 2000, Dr. Jackson found that she had increased symptoms, and he increased her medication as well as administering a facet block injection to alleviate pain. Ms. Stackhouse experienced some relief. [10] at 9.

By May of 2000, at least one of Ms. Stackhouse's multiple physicians, Dr. Palmer, had diagnosed her with fibromyalgia. [5] at 552-53; [10] at 13. In June and August 2000, Ms. Stackhouse symptoms worsened again, and Dr. Jackson indicated that her condition made her unfit for any work. [10] at 9. After a brief respite, by October 2000, her condition had worsened yet again. Id. at 10. A November 2002 MRI, however, was normal. A third physician, Dr. T.K. Asadi, treated the plaintiff in November 2000 and January 2001. In November 2000, Dr. Asadi found that plaintiff had full muscle strength, a normal gait and stance, ...

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