United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
PATRICIA L. COHEN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Larry Nash seeks review of the decision of Social Security
Commissioner, Nancy Berryhill, denying his applications for
Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security
Income under the Social Security Act. The Court has reviewed the
parties' briefs and the entire administrative record,
including the hearing transcript and medical evidence. For
the reasons set forth below, the case is reversed and
Background and Procedural History
March 1, 2012 and August 14, 2012, Plaintiff filed
applications for Supplemental Security Income and Disability
Insurance Benefits. (Tr. 36-39, 200, 421-27). In his
applications, Plaintiff alleged he was disabled as of
November 24, 2008 as a result of: diabetes; neuropathy in
legs; hypertriglyceridemia; hypertension; chronic back, neck,
and knee injuries; foot injuries; arthritis; sleep apnea;
obesity; and depression. (Tr. 200-12, 251). The Social
Security Administration (SSA) denied Plaintiff's claims,
and he filed a timely request for a hearing before an
administrative law judge (ALJ). (Tr. 251-55). After holding a
hearing, the ALJ issued a decision denying Plaintiff benefits
on May 17, 2013. (Tr. 197-212). Plaintiff reapplied for
Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security
Income on June 18, 2013. (Tr. 474-82, 483-89).
appealed the ALJ's decision to the SSA Appeals Council,
which vacated the decision and remanded the case to a
different ALJ. (Tr. 218-21). In accordance with the Appeals
Council's order, the ALJ consolidated Plaintiff's
June 2013 applications for benefits with the present case and
held a hearing on May 27, 2014. (Tr. 117-65, 220). At the
hearing, Plaintiff testified that he was fifty-one years of
age, five feet eleven inches tall, and 350 pounds. (Tr.
122-23). Plaintiff had a high school diploma and had
completed a two-week truck driver training. (Tr. 125).
Plaintiff stated he received food stamps and Medicaid, and
his mother paid his other expenses. (Tr. 124-25).
the ALJ asked Plaintiff why he believed himself disabled,
Because I have neuropathy severely in my hands, in my feet.
My feet and my legs I can only stand for maybe 15 minutes at
a time. And when I sit down after 20 minutes my feet and legs
go completely numb. And I have to get up and walk around a
little bit to get feeling back in my feet and legs. And the
worse thing that's happening now is it spread to my
hands. When I wake up in the morning I can't feel my
hands at all. And during the day . . . my hands go numb many
times a day.
(Tr. 125-26). Later, Plaintiff explained: “[I]f I wake
up in the morning and somebody calls I can't even - I
can't even use the phone because it takes 10 minutes for
my hands to not be numb. I've had people call me, wake me
up, and I can't even push the buttons on the phone to
even make it work.” (Tr. 137). Plaintiff testified that
his hands went numb “probably 50 to 100 times a
day.” (Tr. 147).
regard to the neuropathy in his feet and legs, Plaintiff
stated: “I don't feel my feet at all. I have no
feeling in my feet except for pain and it goes all the way up
to my knees.” (Tr. 138). Plaintiff rated his foot pain
a seven on a ten-point scale. (Tr. 141). Plaintiff's
doctor recommended he use a cane because he had “fallen
lots.” (Tr. 149). Plaintiff explained: “[I]f I
sit down for more than 10 minutes my feet and legs go numb.
And then when I try to get up to do something probably the
first 12 steps I'm just - have no balance.”
Plaintiff estimated that he could sit for twenty minutes,
stand “[b]arely 15 minutes, ” and lift twenty
pounds. (Id.). Plaintiff also suffered constant pain
in his lower back, which he rated an eight on a ten-point
scale. (Tr. 140-41).
stated that his most recent employment was as a truck driver
for a two-year period ending in 2008. (Tr. 126-27). Prior to
that, he worked approximately ten years as a machine operator
for Briggs & Stratton. (Tr. 127-28). After
Plaintiff's previous employer terminated him on November
24, 2008, he did not obtain another job because he
“can't drive anymore because I'm diabetic
insulin.” (Tr. 127).
testified that, on a typical day, he awoke around 11:00 a.m.,
prepared something to eat, checked his blood sugar, and took
his medication. (Tr. 128). Plaintiff watched television and
movies, “surf[ed] around on the net a little bit,
” and talked on the telephone with his mother and two
adult daughters. (Tr. 129-30). Plaintiff napped “a
couple hours” every day because his medications and
sleep apnea made him tired. (Tr. 145). Plaintiff was able to
take care of his dog and dress himself, but was having more
difficulty “putting my shoes on and stuff like that,
” and he could get in and out of the shower but had
fallen “a few times.” (Tr. 131, 148). Plaintiff
drove to doctor appointments, his mother's house, church,
and the grocery store. (Tr. 132, 134). Plaintiff was able to
cook and do laundry, but his mother cleaned his floors and
did his dishes “because I can't stand up long
enough to do them.” (Tr. 132-33). Plaintiff was no
longer able to play the drums in a band, but occasionally
played the drums at his church services. (Tr. 142, 150). When
he played the drums at church, he usually played four songs,
with breaks in between, for a total of “[m]aybe 10
minutes.” (Tr. 150).
stopped drinking alcohol and using “street drugs”
fourteen years ago. (Tr. 134). Plaintiff joined Weight
Watchers and walked “around where I live” to try
to lose weight. (Tr. 135). Plaintiff last walked about half
to three-quarters of a mile about three weeks before and
“it really hurt me.” (Tr. 142-43). Plaintiff
estimated he could walk three or four city blocks before
needing to sit down for ten minutes. (Tr. 143).
believed his medications helped his symptoms, but they made
him dizzy and tired. (Tr.135). Because of his history of drug
abuse, Plaintiff had resisted taking prescription pain
medications, but he recently began taking Tramadol for lower
back pain. (Tr. 135-36). Plaintiff's diabetes was
“not totally under control.” (Tr. 137).
Plaintiff's primary care physician prescribed Prozac for
his depression, and the Prozac was “finally starting to
help.” (Tr. 138-39).
vocational expert also testified at the hearing. (Tr.
151-65). The ALJ asked the vocational expert to consider a
hypothetical individual with the following RFC:
[T]he individual is limited to light work. The individual may
occasionally climb ramps or stairs, must never climb ladders,
ropes, or scaffolds, may occasionally balance, stoop, kneel,
crouch, and crawl. The individual is limited to no use of
foot pedals or pushing and pulling with the lower
extremities. The individual must avoid concentrated exposure
to extreme heat, extreme cold, vibration, and have no
exposure to hazards such as dangerous machinery and
unprotected heights, and no commercial driving. The
individual is limited to simple, routine, and repetitive work
as defined in the DOT as SVP levels 1 and 2, and is able to
make simple, work-related decisions.
(Tr. 153). The vocational expert stated that such individual
could not perform Plaintiff's past work, but could
perform the jobs of plastic product inspector, hand packager,
or ring marker. (Tr. 153-55). When asked to consider the same
hypothetical individual but limited to sedentary work, he
stated that such person could assemble optical goods and hand
package pharmaceutical supplies. (Tr. 157). However, if such
individual were “off task approximately 20 percent due
to the combined effects of medical impairments and
medications, ” he could not maintain employment. (Tr.
158). Additionally, a limitation to infrequent hand
manipulation would preclude the hypothetical individual from
performing all of the jobs identified by the vocational
expert. (Tr. 159).
decision dated July 14, 2014, the ALJ applied the five-step
evaluation process set forth in 20 C.F.R. §§
404.1520, 416.920 and found that Plaintiff “has not
been under a disability, as defined in the Social Security
Act, from November 24, 2008, through the date of this
decision[.]” (Tr. 9-24). The ALJ found that Plaintiff
had the following severe impairments: diabetes mellitus with
neuropathy; obstructive sleep apnea; obesity; adjustment
disorder; and depression. (Tr. 11). The ALJ found that
Plaintiff's back pain was “not [a] medically
determinable impairment.” (Tr. 12).
reviewing Plaintiff's testimony and medical records, the
ALJ determined that Plaintiff's “statements
concerning the intensity, persistence and limiting
effects” of his impairments were “not entirely
credible.” (Tr. 19). The ALJ found that Plaintiff had
the RFC to:
perform light work as defined in 20 CFR 404.1567(b) and
416.967(b) except for the following nonexertional limitations
that reduce the claimant's capacity for light work: can
only occasionally climb ramps or stairs; can never climb
ladders, ropes or scaffolds; can only occasionally balance,
stoop, kneel, crouch or crawl; can never use foot pedals; can
never push or pull with the lower extremities; must avoid
concentrated exposure to extreme heat, extreme cold, and
vibration; must have no exposure to hazards, such as
dangerous machinery and unprotected heights; must not require
commercial driving; limited to simple, routine, and
repetitive tasks as defined in the Dictionary of Occupational
Titles (“DOT”) as specific vocational preparation
(“SVP”) levels one and two; and can only make
simple work-related decisions.
(Tr. 15, 19). The ALJ found that Plaintiff could not perform
his past relevant work as a machine operator or truck driver,
but could perform other jobs that exist in significant
numbers in the national economy. (Tr. 22-23).
filed a request for review of the ALJ's decision with the
SSA Appeals Council, which denied review on October 19, 2015.
(Tr. 1-3, 5). Plaintiff has exhausted all administrative
remedies, and the ALJ's decision stands as the ...