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Wilkins v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

September 22, 2016

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         This is an action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of Defendant's final decision denying Plaintiffs application for Disability Insurance Benefits ("DIB") under Title II of the Social Security Act. For the reasons set forth below, the Court reverses the decision of the Commissioner and remands for further review.

         I. Procedural History

         On July 8, 2013, Plaintiff protectively filed an application for DIB alleging disability beginning March 14, 2010 due to hearing problems; migraines; vision loss right eye; neuropathy in feet and right hand; hypertension; diabetes type II; and exposure to agent orange. (Tr. 13, 83, 109-17) The application was denied, and Plaintiff filed a request for a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). (Tr. 77-89) On June 25, 2014, Plaintiff testified before an ALJ in a hearing held by video teleconference. (Tr. 47-76) On July 1, 2014, the ALJ determined that Plaintiff had not been under a disability from March 14, 2010, through the date of the decision. (Tr. 13-22) Plaintiff then filed a request for review, and on April 27, 2015, the Appeals Council denied said request. (Tr. 1-4) Thus, the decision of the ALJ stands as the final decision of the Commissioner.

         II. Evidence Before the ALJ

         At the June 25, 2014 video teleconference hearing before the ALJ, Plaintiff was represented by counsel. Plaintiff testified that he joined the United States Air Force in 1967 and served for 24 years as a criminal investigator and policeman. Plaintiff then went to college and worked for the St. Louis Housing Authority as director. He later worked for the Department of Defense as an antiterrorism officer in Germany. When he returned to Missouri, he worked for the State of Missouri as an investigator of fraud. His last position was as a criminal investigator for the Missouri Attorney General's office. Plaintiff was let go following the election of a new Attorney General and a dispute with his supervisor. Plaintiff testified that he was in a lot of pain toward the end of his career. His feet started to hurt, and he experienced serious migraines. While Plaintiff enjoyed his job, he did not believe that he could currently perform his job. His pain and neuropathy had worsened, and he was unable to use his right hand. (Tr. 49-54)

         Plaintiff stated that his wife owned two horses, and he helped her maintain them. He was able to bathe the horses but not feed them bales of hay. Plaintiff further testified that his job as an investigator involved research and traveling to perform interviews. However, he could no longer travel because he had difficulty feeling the gas pedal with his foot. His doctor told him the neuropathy would never improve. Plaintiff also testified regarding pain in his neck, shoulder, arms, hands, legs, and feet. He described the pain as lightning bolts. Plaintiff also had painful nodules on his feet, which had decreased in size but were still present. The real pain was in his entire foot, which was a shooting pain when he took a step and even when he slept. (Tr. 54-60)

         Plaintiffs attorney also questioned Plaintiff about his conditions. Plaintiff stated that he had problems with both his right and his left hand. Specifically, Plaintiff stated that his left hand had started to shake, and his doctor told him the tremors were a result of the diabetes. He further testified that he could possibly make a two-hour round trip drive between St. Louis and Columbia, Missouri by stopping for bathroom breaks and using the cruise control. However, he would be unable to make a four-hour drive to Kansas City due to the need to stop for water and weather-change headaches. (Tr. 60-62)

         Plaintiff further testified that he took ten different medications on a daily basis. The diabetes medication caused weight gain, and Invokan caused dizziness. All of his drugs caused side effects. Plaintiff stated that his wife administered his insulin injections. (Tr. 62-64)

         With regard to daily activities, Plaintiff stated he could no longer mow the grass. He paid someone to mow and to shovel snow in the winter. Plaintiffs laundry room was in the basement. He was unable to carry baskets of clothes up and down the stairs. Instead, he threw the clothes down the stairs, and his wife brought up the folded clothes. Plaintiff had some hearing loss in both ears. He had an appointment with the VA to look into a hearing aide. Although Plaintiffs diabetes was not well-controlled, he had not been hospitalized for symptoms related to his diabetes. However, his diabetes caused him to become dehydrated and dizzy. Plaintiff believed he could walk as far as he wanted so long as he could stand the pain. Walking was never comfortable. Aside from the painful nodules, Plaintiff experienced a constant burning sensation in his feet that felt like frostbite. He could walk on a treadmill and tolerate the pain for up to 15 minutes. He then needed to get off the treadmill because walking was too painful. (Tr. 64-69)

         A vocational expert ("VE") also testified at the hearing. The VE stated that Plaintiffs past work included antiterrorism officer and criminal investigator, which were medium and skilled positions. His job as a manager of security was sedentary and skilled. However, Plaintiff stated that the job, as he performed it, required him to be out patrolling the area with the other officers. The ALJ then asked the VE to assume a hypothetical individual limited to light exertional duties. The VE stated that this person could not return to Plaintiffs past relevant work as an investigator but could perform the director of security position as described by the Dictionary of Occupational Titles ("DOT") but not as Plaintiff performed it. The ALJ then asked Plaintiff about his ability to type and write with his right hand. Plaintiff stated that he was taking on line college courses and could still type with both hands, but not as well as before. He testified that one hand shook, and the other hand was numb. (Tr. 69-74)

         HI. Medical Evidence

         On November 11, 2011, Plaintiff complained of nodules on the bottom of his feet. Plaintiff reported that he experienced pain when he walked barefoot on hard floors. He also had numbness mid-calf to the sole of his feet secondary to diabetic neuropathy. Plaintiff denied any weakness or tingling distally. Erik V. Nott, M.D., assessed plantar fibromatosis, also known as Lederhosen's disease. Dr. Nott planned to treat Plaintiff non-operatively. (Tr. 242-43)

         Plaintiff complained of right shoulder pain on December 3, 2012. He had pain, spasm, and decreased range of motion. A CT of the cervical spine showed no evidence of acute fracture. Plaintiff had mild to moderate multilevel degenerative disease, most pronounced at ¶ 5-C6. The report found inter vertebral disc space narrowing at ¶ 3-C4, C4-C5, C5-C6, and C6-C7, with osteophytosis. Plaintiff also had mild diffuse disc bulge without central canal stenosis at ¶ 3-C4, C4-C5, and C5-C6. Plaintiffs pain improved with ...

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