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Haycook v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Southwestern Division

April 26, 2017

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          NANETTE K. LAUGHREY United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Robert Haycook appeals the Commissioner of Social Security9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9;s final decision denying his application for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. The decision is affirmed.

         I. Background

         Haycook was born in 19');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">959');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9. He alleges he became disabled beginning 11/30/2013. He worked intermittently as a paramedic until April 2015. Haycook first applied for Disability Insurance Benefits on 12/27/2013 and was denied on 5/20/2014. Haycook filed a Request for Hearing on 7/3/2014. The Administrative Law Judge held a hearing on 6/11/2015 and denied his application on 10/23/2015. Haycook submitted additional evidence to the Appeals Council, which denied his request for review on 6/6/2016.

         A. Medical history

         1. History Considered by the Administrative Law Judge

         In January 2013, Haycook visited his primary care physician, Michael Knapp, D.O., where he reported experiencing depression, anxiety, diabetes, neck pain, difficulty sleeping, troubled feelings, isolation, lack of appetite, and feelings of depression. Tr. 452. Haycook presented with similar symptoms in April 2013 as well as presenting muscle spasms. Dr. Knapp noted Haycook9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9;s diabetes was uncontrolled. Tr. 470, 475.

         In August 2013 Haycook twice presented to the emergency room with abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting. He also saw Dr. Knapp for treatment regarding neck and lower cervical spine pain. On August 16, 2013, Haycook underwent a C4-5 and C5-6 anterior cervical discectomy and fusion. At his follow-up appointments, Haycook reported the left arm pain and numbness he felt pre-surgery was gone but that he still experienced neck muscle spasm pain. Tr. 667, 669');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9. He was admitted through the emergency room again in October and November 2013 presenting abdominal pain, vomiting and severe neck pain. Tr. 615, 622. He was diagnosed with hypokalemia, uncontrolled diabetes and chronic neck pain.

         In December 2013, Haycook was admitted and underwent a psychological evaluation after telling his sister he was going to harm himself. Tr. 641. After evaluation, Haycook was diagnosed with adjustment disorder with disturbance of emotion and conduct, and was noted to have poor coping skills. Tr. 648. He was discharged two days later. Haycook was seen by Dr. Knapp and later presented to the emergency room with continued neck pain and spasms made worse with certain movements. Tr. 49');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">92, 359');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9.

         In January 2014, Haycook reported problems with his left arm jerking, causing him to drop items. Tr. 677. He reported improvement with his neck pain, but that he stopped working as a paramedic due to the physical activity it required. Id. In April 2014 Haycook saw Dr. Knapp and Dr. Curtis reporting muscle spasms in his neck and “dragging of his left foot.” Tr. 704, 787. In May 2014 Haycook saw Dr. Knapp for diabetes management where he reported he had not been monitoring his blood sugars at home despite Dr. Knapp9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9;s referral to a website where he could obtain test strips for free. Tr. 781, 79');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">92. In October 2014 Haycook presented to the emergency room with elevated blood sugar levels, confusion, and slurred speech. Tr. 716. Haycook also reported lightheadedness, tunnel vision, general weakness, abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting. Tr. 716.

         In March 2015 Haycook was taken to the emergency room by EMS after experiencing near-syncope. Tr. 748. Haycook also reported abdominal pain, dizziness, lightheadedness, nausea, and weakness. Id. An ECG revealed a right bundle branch block and sinus tachycardia. Tr. 750. He was diagnosed with abdominal pain, near syncope, dehydration, and hypokalemia and was discharged.

         In April 2015 Haycook began seeing Cynthia Lungstrum, LSCSW at Trinity Life Counseling Center, for individual therapy. Tr. 757. Ms. Lungstrum completed a mental medical in which she indicated Haycook had been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that impaired his ability to work. Tr. 760.

         2. Additional History Submitted to the Appeals Council

         On June 2, 2015, Haycook saw William Nicholas, M.D., at the Bentlage Heart and Vascular Institute, for an evaluation of a progressive dyspnea. Tr. 79');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">99');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9. A stress ECG revealed normal results, but did indicate a resting heart rate of 100. Id. In September 2015, Haycook presented to the emergency room with dysuria, bladder pressure and left flank pain. Tr. 868.

         Haycook returned to the emergency room in October 2015 with neck pain radiating into his arms. Tr. 812. He reported difficulty with grasping and gripping objects as well as abnormal facial movements and difficulty swallowing. Id. A cervical CT revealed mild to moderate degenerative disc changes and facet joint arthritis at multiple levels, as well as mild to moderate overall central spinal canal stenosis at ¶ 5-6. Tr. 818. He was admitted and saw Daniel Dagen, D.O. for a neurologic evaluation of his involuntary facial movements. Tr. 889');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9. Dr. Dagen noted a myelogram and CT revealed recurrent cervical canal stenosis causing Haycook to likely need repeat surgery. Id.

         B. The hearing before the ALJ

         At the June 11, 2015 hearing held before Administrative Law Judge Rhonda Greenburg, Haycook testified to disabling impairments of a neck injury, heart condition, bowel obstruction, and depression. Haycook testified that despite undergoing a cervical fusion and bone spur removal several years prior he continued to experience chronic neck spasms, as well as numbness and weakness in his left arm and leg on a “nearly constant basis.” Tr. 71; 68; 69');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9. Haycook testified that this would cause him difficulty in picking up items, gripping with his hands, reaching and pushing/pulling. Tr. 69');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9. Haycook stated that he had been prescribed pain medication and medication for his muscle spasms that did not fully relieve his symptoms. Id.

         Haycook also testified to having a heart condition, which caused him to experience sudden onsets of syncopal episodes, as well as weakness and light headedness. Tr. 72. Haycook stated that he experienced chest palpitations and shortness of breath and lightheadedness with exertion four to five times a week, and that he had a pacemaker put in during 2010. Tr. 72-74. Haycook also testified that he had bowl obstructions which caused him to have nausea, diarrhea and abdominal pain, and that these symptoms could last for several days at a time. Tr. 77. Lastly, Haycook testified to having symptoms of depression causing him to lose interest in previously enjoyed activities. Tr. 9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">93, 9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">96.

         Regarding his activities of daily living, Haycook testified that he spent most of the day watching television, reading newspapers and magazines, or visiting with friends or family who stopped by or called him on the phone. Tr. 88; 86. Haycook testified that he did not help out with household chores but could get ready on his own, although he had to take breaks, especially when shaving. Tr. 82; 83; 89');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9. Haycook testified that he could sit for several hours before needing to stand; he could stand for four hours before needing to sit; he could only walk for twenty to thirty feet at one time; and he could only lift ten pounds. Tr. 78; 81; 82.

         A vocational expert testified at the hearing. The ALJ proposed a hypothetical individual who was capable of medium exertion and was able to frequently climb ladders, ropes and scaffolding; could frequently crawl; could occasionally reach overhead; should avoid even moderate exposure to vibration; and who should not work around unprotected heights, dangerous moving machinery or operate heavy industrial equipment. Tr. 9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">98. The vocational expert testified that an individual with these limitations would not be able to perform Haycook&#39');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9');">9;s past relevant work, but could perform work as janitor, hand packer, or dishwasher. Tr. 100. The vocational expert further testified that Plaintiff had skills that would transfer ...

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